while my mom always tried incredibly hard to please her two kids by cooking some western meals every so often, i always thought she was way more successful in the kitchen when she stuck with what she knew. not to say that i didn't enjoy my spaghetti with ketchup growing up but my mother's homemade vietnamese food was many, many levels above noodles dressed in heinz. her pho (translated: beef noodle soup), bun bo hue (spicy pig's feet noodle soup. yes, i said pig's feet), cha gio (spring rolls) and freshly made nuoc nam (sweet & sour fish sauce) were all to die for. even with the plethora of cheap vietnamese restaurants in san francisco, i still request all of those dishes from her when i go home to maryland.
sadly, i've only learned to make a few of them but one of her traditional dishes that i have adapted is her vietnamese chicken salad. traditionally made with cabbage, carrots, mint and tender slices of dark chicken, i've westernized this dish a bit. in addition to the thin slices of napa cabbage and julienned carrots, i've added a greater spectrum of flavors and colors. red peppers add a punch of red and sweetness and purple radicchio contributes a bit of bitterness to balance the other flavors out. i've swapped the chicken for poached shrimp to fancy-pants it up a bit. and of course, it's still dressed in my mother's nuoc nam, a recipe i'll never mess with, for it's exactly perfect as it is. serve this vietnamese salad as a side to your next asian themed meal, pack it on a picnic or even consider it for an entree by adding a few more shrimp to hearty it up a bit. the colors and flavors will satisfy any appetite.
vietnamese salad with poached shrimp
serves 4-6 as a side
for the nuoc nam dressing:
1 cup water
½ cup sugar
3 tbs. fish sauce
2 tbs. fresh squeezed lime juice
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 tsp. chili-garlic sauce
for the salad:
1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
½ hed of napa cabbage
½ head of radicchio
2 large carrots, peeled and julienne
1 red pepper, julienne
½ cup of loosely packed mint leaves, chiffonade
to make the nuoc nam:
bring 1 cup of water to boil in a small saucepan. stir in sugar and lower heat to medium. we are essentially making a simple syrup by using the heat to evaporate the water thereby making a thicker sugar & water mixture, aka syrup. heat until the water has been reduced by one half. take off the heat and let cool.
when the mixture has cooled add the other ingredients. nuoc nam can easily be tailored to taste and you'll get better each time you make it. add more fish sauce for savoriness or more lime juice for tartness or more chili-garlic sauce for more heat. mix everything together and set aside.
to make the salad:
fill up a medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil. salt heavily and add shrimp. lower heat to medium and cook shrimp for about 5 minutes until pink. drain and let cool.
toss together all other ingredients. add shrimp and dress with nuoc nam.