Vietnamese Prawn Vermicelli Noodle Salad

Vietnamese prawn and vermicelli noodle salad

Vietnamese prawn and vermicelli noodle salad

So it’s been a while, huh? 

A couple of weeks ago, I sat down to write and ended up putting it aside to write my thank you cards for the wedding presents.  Each time since there has been a similar distraction which has kept me away from this blog.  It isn’t that I haven’t been eating – far from it – more that other things have got in the way.  I think we all have this problem.

Yesterday I spent much of the day on the couch with a bad bout of asthma.  As is often the way when I feel sorry for myself, much of my sustenance came from the toaster and the biscuit tin.  When I finally mustered the energy to pop down to the local shops and buy myself some Lucozade (magical restorative potion of choice), I went past the greengrocers and realised that something had to change: I needed vegetables.

Although the temperature has dropped in London in the past few days, I find that I am still in love with the no-cook meals I have discovered during the recent heatwave.  After all, nobody wants to slave over an oven and a hob when it is in excess of 30 degrees.  There has been a lot of raw vegetable consumption in my household over the summer, and I have to confess that I am feeling all the better for it.

Asian salads are one of the best ways to eat raw vegetables as the punchy, spicy dressings are the perfect cure for the sometimes monotonous taste.  They usually consist of vegetables, and often fruit, shredded very finely and combined with noodles or beansprouts and often meat or fish.  The art of creating the perfect dressing is getting the balance of the four elements right: hot, salty, sweet and sour, the basis of a lot of Asian cookery.

This salad is a typical Asian medley of vegetables with vermicelli rice noodles and prawns.  Although it isn’t strictly a no-cook recipe, the few minutes spent stir frying the vermicelli noodles and beansprouts in a wok barely counts.  Using cooked prawns is the easy option, but you could cook your own if you wish.

Vietnamese Prawn and Vermicelli Noodle Salad
Serves 2-3; adapted from a recipe from taste.com.au

For the dressing
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce
90ml lime juice
2 birds eye chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped

250g fresh vermicelli noodles
75g beansprouts
1 large carrot, cut into thin batons
1 cucumber, deseeded and cut into thin batons
2 birds eye chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
300g cooked, peeled prawns
2 tbsp each of finely chopped mint, coriander and basil

Combine all of the ingredients for the dressing in a bowl, whisk to dissolve the sugar and set aside.

Stir fry the vermicelli noodles and beansprouts according to packet instructions and then transfer to a large bowl.  Add the carrot, cucumber, chilli, prawns and herbs.  Pout over the dressing and toss to combine.

Two Weekend Lunches: Ganapati and Cafe East

Whilst working from home on Friday, head in my hands and surrounded by piles of paper, Ollie suggested that I take a break and join him for lunch.  I was about to say that I didn’t have time when he suggested Ganapati, so I closed my laptop and off we went.  There is no shortage of Indian restaurants in our little part of south east London, however Ganapati sits head and shoulders above the myriad of curry houses on Lordship Lane and the Old Kent Road and is a real local favourite.  Ganapati has recently set up a take-away kitchen around the corner from its main site just off the Bellenden Road, which has caused a great deal of excitement in many a delivery postcode.  They also have an extremely good value lunch deal.

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We started by sharing the vegetarian street snacks:  a plate containing two mysore bonda, potato and cashew dumplings fried in chickpea batter; and two vadai, ground chana dal with curry leaf and green chilli, shaped into patties and fried.  Both were perfectly hot and crispy without the greasiness that often accompanies fried starters.  We both agreed that we could not choose between them but, in hindsight, would have ordered a plate each.

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The vegetarian thali main came on a large metal tray separated into sections.  The tomato-based vegetable and lentil curry had a huge kick of spices and curry leaves and was far hotter than I expected – so much so that Ollie the chilli fiend kept trying to sneak forkfuls when I wasn’t looking.  The accompaniements were great, by far my favourite part of the dish was a sweet and slightly spiced beetroot pickle that complemented the heat of the curry perfectly.  Ollie ordered the kingfish curry, which has perfectly cooked soft pieces of fish in a coconut and tamarind sauce. 

Most of the main courses on the Ganapti lunch menu are under £6, which makes it an excellent value lunch, especially as the prices are considerably higher in the evening.

Ganapati, 38 Holly Grove, Peckham, London SE15 5DF

Having a rare day off together on Sunday, we went over to the Museum of London Docklands for the afternoon, where I have not been since my first year at Goldsmiths.  London’s history is so fascinating, especially that of the communities that lived and worked by the river.  I found this amusing piece of information about the women that worked at the fish market.

“Fish, espeically herring, was the staple food of the London poor.  In the 18th century, boats brought their catch bacl from fishing grounds off the coast of Norway, the Baltic and north of the Shetlands.  Women working at the fish market had a reputation for toughness and sharp language.  Some even earned additional income as bare-knuckle fighters.”  – The Museum of London Docklands

The museum is rather enormous, so by the time we got to the bit about rebuilding the docklands we had worked up quite an appetite, so headed over to Cafe East in Surrey Quays for a late Vietnamese lunch.  When you first get off the Overground, this seems like the last place you are going to find one of south-east London’s gems.  To get to it, you have to walk past all of the usual horrors you would expect to find in a retail park:  Frankie & Benny’s, Pizza Hut, generic-American grill restaurants et cetera.  However, when you get right to the back, there is a little unassuming brick hut that makes some of the best Vietnamese food south of the river – obviously the Kingsland Road is the go-to destination for pho but sometimes you just don’t want to go to Shoreditch…

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After the customary chuckle at the “We do not serve tap water” sign at the entrance, we took up a table and ordered some Vietnamese iced coffee.  It’s always a bit of a shame that they don’t offer hot coffee with condensed milk as other restaurants do, as I prefer this to the iced stuff.

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We started with an order of banh cuon, steamed rolls filled with minced pork and chinese mushrooms and topped with meatloaf and some delicious fried shallots; and the goi cuon, known to the rest of us as ‘summer rolls’, filled with pork and prawn.  Both were generous in size and very fresh.  The summer rolls were not overloaded with fresh mint, which many often are, so the other flavours were able to come through.  They came with a peanut sauce and a ferociously spicy chilli dipping sauce.

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I ordered the lemongrass pork chop, a sweet, slightly spicy, sticky sliced pork served over boiled rice, which was just the right combination of moistness and chewiness.  Despite being well-coated in the sauce, the flavour of the pork still came through well.  I thought a splash of the summer rolls’ dipping sauce might ruin it, but the pork actually benefitted well from the extra spice.  On the side were some innocuous looking pickles – shredded carrot and daikon – that were so perfect I wished there was more than the little pinch put on the side of the plate.  Ollie ordered the Pho Bo Hue – a slightly spicy variation of the traditional beef pho.  The beef brisket, cooked in the heat of the soup, were sliced perfectly thin and the slippery noodles and crisp vegetables made it a very substantial dish.  The little bowl of red chillies accompanying the soup were for the very brave only – even Ollie, who has the highest heat tolerance of anybody I know, only added three-quarters. 

I didn’t eat for the rest of the day after that.

Cafe East, Surrey Quays Leisure Park, 100 Redriff Road, London SE16 7LH.

Ganapati on Urbanspoon

Cafe East on Urbanspoon

Prawn and Cashew Nut Summer Rolls

Prawn and Cashew Nut Summer Rolls

Prawn and Cashew Nut Summer Rolls

I first became addicted to summer rolls, or gòi cüon, on a trip to south-east Asia in the summer of 2009.  I had finished my exams, and with a long, study-free summer ahead of me, I took off for a four-week trip through Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand with some friends.  Unsurprisingly, this trip sparked my love of south-east Asian cuisine in general and has inspired a lot of my cooking and restaurant choices since.  We ate beef phò for breakfast, bought countless bánh mi prepared from little motoribke/hotplate combos by the side of the road in Saigon, drank little cups of Vietnamese coffee sweetened with condensed milk to help with our hangovers and tried to pluck up the courage to try the foul-smelling, but apparently delicious, durian fruit (I still, to this day, have not sampled this delicacy).  The weather was extremely hot – 46 degrees on the day we went to visit Angkor Wat – so we often wanted cold and refreshing food.  Shredded mango and papaya salads are ubiquitous in this region, usually laced with a lip-numbing amount of chilli.  Summer rolls are also common, and a great cool starter or snack.

Summer rolls are a very traditional Vietnamese dish, but are also widely found in Cambodia.  It was in Siem Reap, in fact, that we learned to make them; on a cooking course at Le Tigre de Papier restaurant.  Summer rolls consist of a filling of vermicelli noodles, vegetables – usually lettuce, finely julienned carrot and beansprouts, herbs – usually coriander, mint and chives and a protein such as pork, prawns, tofu or nuts.  They are wrapped in rice paper, dampened in hot water to make it malleable.  They have a similar shape to the more widely-known spring roll, but are not deep fried. Summer rolls are commonly served with a dipping sauce of soy sauce, fish sauce, lime and chilli, although it has become common in recent years, particularly in Vietnamese restaurants outside of south-east Asia, to serve them with hoisin sauce, Sriracha or even sweet chilli sauce.

Although relatively simple to make, summer rolls require quite a bit of patience as the rice-paper wrappers can be quite fiddly.  The best way to approach making summer rolls is to prep all of the ingredients in advance and lay them out in front of you so that you can take a bit from each of them for each roll.  Using pre-cooked vermicelli, often found in supermarket chillers next to the pre-prepared Asian vegetables, will also save you time.  The trickiest part is knowing how long to soak the rice paper rolls for:  not enough time and you will have rice paper that is too stiff to roll well, too long and you will have soggy rice paper that will split when you try to use it.  There is no specific timing with this and you simply have to use your judgement, although it does get easier with practice.

Prawn and Cashew Nut Summer Rolls

For the rolls:

  • 12 round rice paper wrappers
  • 2 little gem lettuces, tough stalks removed and leaves shredded
  • 100g pre-cooked vermicelli noodles
  • 50g beansprouts
  • 1 large carrot, cut into fine batons
  • 48 small cooked prawns
  • Handful chopped coriander
  • Handful chopped mint
  • Handful chopped cashew nuts

For the dipping sauce:

  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 birds eye chilli, chopped
  • 1 tbsp chopped ginger
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 3 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp lime juice

Prepare all of the ingredients for the rolls and set them out on boards in front of you.  This will make it easier when you come to assembling them.  Fill a large shallow bowl with boiling water.

To make each roll, place a rice paper wrapper into the bowl of boiling water until it has softened.  Remove it and place it flat on a board or work surface.  Leaving plenty of space around the edges, pile a small amount of the lettuce, noodles, bean sprouts, carrot, four of the prawns, coriander, mint and cashew nuts.  Fold in the paper on the left and right of the filling, fold over the piece of the rice paper closest to you and roll away from you until the roll is complete.  The moisture in the rice paper will create a seal.  (YouTube has some video guides on how to roll summer rolls, so it may be worth watching these if you aren’t sure.)

To make the dipping sauce, place the garlic, chilli, ginger and sugar in a pestle and mortar and pound until you have a smooth paste.  Stir in the fish sauce, soy sauce and lime juice.  Pour into small pots or ramekins and serve with the summer rolls.

Adapted from a recipe by BBC Good Food.  Makes 12 rolls.

Street Food Saturdays: Viet Van, East Dulwich

Pulled pork Banh Mi a mere ten minute walk from my front door on a Saturday morning? Hungover snacking has never been the same since Viet Van rolled into town.

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Viet Van Menu

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Viet Van

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Viet Van

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BBQ Chicken Banh Mi

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Pulled Pork Banh Mi

Viet Van, North Cross Road Market (Saturdays Only), East Dulwich