One of my favorite dish to order at my local Vietnamese restaurant is bun thit nuong (vermicelli with grilled pork). It seems that in most Vietnamese restaurants, at least half a side of a menu features the different variations of the dish. There is a vegetarian version, you can have it with grilled beef, shrimp, chicken, and even Vietnamese spring rolls. It is served along with nuoc cham, a fish sauce based dipping sauce that is sweet, sour, sometimes spicy, and highly addictive.
This popular vermicelli dish is refreshing, and as you can tell from the different variations, it is also versatile. For my version I wanted to include one of my favorite produce this time of the year – sweet, ripe, summer tomatoes. Charring both the tomatoes and the romaine lettuce adds a nice smokey flavor. The spicy garlicky fish sauce based dressing brightens and adds a kick to the dish. Shrimp was my protein, but you can add grilled chicken, pork, beef, and even portobello mushrooms instead.
One thing to keep in mind if you are planning to char your tomatoes and lettuce indoor is that it creates A LOT OF SMOKE. A LOT OF IT! So remember to turn on your exhaust fan to high and maybe even open a few windows. If you have an outdoor area and a portable burner, char it outside. That is what I did and I am happy I did. Of course you can also char on an outdoor grill as well.
Vermicelli Noodle Salad with Charred Tomatoes, Romaine Lettuce, and Shrimp
FISH SAUCE DRESSING (makes 2 cups)
1/2 cup hot water
1/2 cup cold water
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup fish sauce
3 tblsp lime juice, fresh squeezed, about 1.5 to 2 limes
1 head of garlic
3 bird’s eye chili pepper (Thai chili pepper)
Deseed the bird’s eye chili pepper or leave the seeds in if you want the dressing to be extra spicy. Finely mince the garlic and bird’s eye chili together. Set aside.
In a large glass bowl, add the sugar and hot water. Stir until the sugar is dissolve. Add the minced garlic and chili pepper, cold water, fish sauce, and lime juice. Mix well. Chill the dressing for at least 30 minutes. Dressing can be made overnight.
VERMICELLI NOODLE SALAD
1/2 lb medium shrimp (31/35 count size), 16 shrimps
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1 lb Vietnamese vermicelli noodle (bun giang tay)
6 plum tomatoes
4 whole romaine lettuce
1/4 whole red onion
1 bunch mint
1 bunch Thai basil
1 bunch perilla leaves
1 bunch cilantro
Deshell and devein the shrimps. Rinse under cold water and pat dry. Place shrimps in a glass bowl and add fish sauce, olive oil, sugar, and black pepper. Mix well and marinate for 30 minutes.
In a large pot of water, cook the vermicelli noodles. Strain the noodles in a colander and rinse well with cold water. Drain and set aside.
Hand tear or roughly chop the mint, Thai basil, perilla leaves, and cilantro. Set the herb mixture aside.
Thinly slice the red onion. Set aside.
Slice the plum tomatoes and whole romaine lettuce length wise. Drizzle the cut side with olive oil. Set aside.
Heat a large cast iron skillet or griddle until it is very hot and smokey. Place the tomatoes cut side down. Cook until cut side is charred. About 3 to 4 minutes. Set aside on a plate.
Wait until skillet is hot again. Place the romaine lettuce cut side down. Cook until cut side is slightly charred. About 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside on a plate.
Cook the shrimp on the same skillet. About 1 to 2 minutes on each side. Set aside.
Divide the noodles into 4 servings. Place noodles in large individual serving bowls.
Chop the charred lettuce into bite size pieces. One half whole lettuce per serving. Slice the charred tomatoes lengthwise. Chop into bite size pieces. Three half plum tomatoes per serving. Place lettuce and tomatoes on top of noodles.
Add the shrimp (four shrimps per serving), sliced onions, and herb mixture on top of the noodles as well.
Place fish sauce dressing in four small bowls. Half a cup of dressing in each bowl. Serve noodles and dressing side by side. Pour dressing on noodles before eating. Mix and enjoy.