Eric Akis: Filling Asian flair in a bowl

Eric Akis

If you feel like a salad, want to eat something barbecued and desire a dish rich with Asian-style flavours, today’s recipe is designed for you. It combines all three of those things in a bowl, creating a Vietnamese-style meal perfect for summer.

The salad part of the equation starts by placing cooked, cooled rice noodles in individual serving bowls. On those noodles go microgreens, sliced cucumber, mint, cilantro and bean sprouts. The cool, refreshing ingredients nicely balance the rich taste of the next two items you set on the noodles.

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Those items are prawns and thin pieces of pork, marinated with garlic, lemon grass, soy sauce and black pepper, before being grilled on a barbecue. The charred meat, which you slice after cooking, and the prawns are succulent and taste even more splendid when eaten with the noodles and fresh items in the bowl.

Before you dig in, though, you make everything in this Vietnamese-style rice noodle bowl even more brightly flavoured by drizzling them with nuoc cham. It’s a cool, easy-to-make sauce with pleasing salty, sour, sweet and spicy flavours.

As you can see by the length of the recipe, there are a few steps to making these noodle bowls. But they aren’t difficult, and the reward for your efforts will be a very tasty, colourful meal.

Vietnamese-style Noodle Bowl With Grilled Pork and Prawns 

Cool rice noodles, fresh herbs, crisp cucumber, earthy greens and sprouts, and hot, richly seasoned grilled pork and prawns combine in this perfect-for-summer bowl of goodness.

Preparation: 30 minutes

Cooking time: About 10 minutes

Makes: Two servings

For the pork

2 (3 1/2 oz./100 g) boneless pork loin chops

1 Tbsp minced shallots (see Eric’s options)

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 Tbsp brown sugar

2 tsp finely minced lemon grass (see Note 1 and Eric’s options)

2 tsp vegetable oil

1 tsp fish sauce

1 tsp soy sauce

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

Cut each pork chop, widthwise, in half. Cover the pieces of pork with plastic wrap, and then with a kitchen hammer, pound them until very thin, about 1/8- to 1/2-inch thick. Combine the remaining ingredients in a shallow bowl. Add the pork and turn to coat. Cover, refrigerate and marinate pork one to four hours, depending on how much time you have. Cook pork as directed below.

For the prawns

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 Tbsp brown sugar

2 tsp finely minced lemon grass (see Eric’s options)

2 tsp vegetable oil

1 tsp fish sauce

1 tsp soy sauce

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

6 to 8 medium or large prawns, peeled and deveined (see Note 2)

Combine ingredients, except prawns, in a shallow bowl. Add the prawns and toss to coat.

Cover and refrigerate prawns until needed. Cook prawns as directed below.

For the nuoc cham

1/2 cup hot water

3 Tbsp granulated sugar

1/4 tsp dried red pepper flakes

1 medium garlic clove, minced

2 Tbsp fish sauce

2 Tbsp lime juice

1/4 cup grated carrots

Place hot water and sugar in a small bowl and stir until sugar is dissolved. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Allow the sauce to steep for at least 15 minutes before serving. The sauce can be made a couple of hours ahead, then covered and refrigerated until needed.

For the noodle bowl

125 to 150 grams thin dried Asian-style rice noodles (see Note 3)

1 cup microgreens or shredded head or romaine lettuce (see Note 4)

1 cup bean sprouts

16 thin slices English cucumber

8 to 10 small sprigs fresh mint

8 to 10 small sprigs fresh cilantro

2 to 3 Tbsp unsalted, roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat. While the water comes to temperature, preheat your barbecue to medium-high, about 400 F in the chamber (see Eric’s options).

When water is boiling, add the noodles and cook until just tender, about one minute.

Drain the noodles, and then run cold water into the pot to cool them. Drain the noodles again and divide them between two large, shallow bowls.

Placing each of the ingredients in separate mounds, top the noodles with microgreens (or lettuce), bean sprouts, cucumber, mint and cilantro, leaving spaces in the bowl for the pork and prawns.

Grill the pork on the barbecue about two minutes per side, or until cooked. Set pork on a cutting board and cover with foil. Now grill the prawns one to two minutes per side, until cooked.

Set three or four prawns in each noodle bowl. Cut the pork into strips, and then divide and set some of them on each bowl of noodles. Sprinkle each noodle bowl with peanuts. Serve the nuoc cham in individual bowls for drizzling on each noodle bowl.

Note 1: Stalks of lemon grass are sold in the produce section of some supermarkets. To prepare for mincing, trim one centimetre or so off the bottom of the stalk. Peel off the dried-out looking, outer layers of the stalk. Only the bottom eight centimetres or so of the stalk is tender enough to mince.

Note 2: Some grocery stores sell raw prawns, already shelled and deveined. They are most often sold frozen. Thaw before using. However, if you bought shell-on prawns that were not deveined, to remove the shell, hold the tip of tail of a prawn in one hand. Slip the thumb of your other hand under the shell between its swimmerets (little legs). Pull off the shell, but leave the very tip of the tail in place. With a small paring knife, make a lengthwise slit along the back of the prawn. Pull out or rinse out with cold water, the dark vein. Pat prawn dry and it’s ready to use.

Note 3: Thin Asian-style rice noodles, also called bánh pho or vermicelli, are sold in the Asian foods aisle of most grocery stores. Package sizes can vary. Remove what you need for this recipe, and save the rest for another time.

Note 4: Microgreens are the small shoots of vegetables picked just after the first leaves have developed. You’ll find them for sale, in small tubs, at some Greater Victoria food stores, such as the Root Cellar and Peppers Foods.

Eric’s options: If you don’t have shallots, 1 Tbsp of minced green onion could be used instead. If you don’t have lemon grass, replace it with 1/2 tsp finely grated lemon or lime zest. If you don’t have a barbecue, you could cook the pork and prawns on an indoor grill. If you don’t have an indoor grill, you could simply sear the pork and prawns in a hot skillet, until cooked.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks, including seven in his Everyone Can Cook series. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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