Vietnamese Noodle Salad

From the time my children were in grade school, their favorite takeout dinner, hands down, was the vermicelli noodles and chicken topped with spring rolls from Vietnam Restaurant in Chinatown.
I don’t mean to suggest that they were super adventurous eaters, because they weren’t. But my husband used to bring home this dinner for the two of us, and soon enough the kids wanted to taste what their parents were eating. Shortly thereafter, they wanted styrofoam containers of their own.
It was just familiar enough, with noodles, lettuce, carrots, cucumber and peanuts, but a little bit exotic and grownup with mint and spicy chili peppers. The fish sauce was served on the side, and could be skipped, until their palates were ready for the salty, fishy fermentation.
It remained one of the few takeout dinners that my daughter Sally could eat after she was diagnosed with celiac, as the noodles are made with rice, and it is entirely gluten free.
So, I was anxious to try this Vietnamese noodle salad when I saw the recipe, and curious to see if I could reproduced something close to the dish we all love.
It was surprisingly quick and easy to pull it together, and the flavor profile was really close to the salad part of that favorite takeout. It does require some chopping, but the ingredients are all routine purchases, except for the rice noodles and fish sauce, which I found easily in the Ethnic food section at Wegman’s. I forgot to buy peanuts, and subbed with chopped almonds, which were not bad, but I definitely recommend using the salted peanuts.
I topped the salad with some leftover grilled chicken, which worked well. But I think it would also be great with grilled shrimp or pork kebabs.
It’s definitely a salad I’ll be making again, even though I’m sure it will never completely replace our favorite takeout. I love those crispy spring rolls way too much, and deep frying them at home is out of my league.
Vietnamese-Style Rice Noodle Salad
Makes 6 to 8 servings
½ cup fresh lime juice (from about 2 large limes)
¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon minced ginger
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 Thai bird chile, seeded and minced
8 ounces dried rice noodles (about ¼ inch thick)
8 cups thinly sliced iceberg lettuce (from 1 large head)
1 large carrot, shaved into ribbons (use a vegetable peeler)
1 large cucumber, peeled if you like, cut into ½-inch dice
5 medium radishes, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh mint leaves
3 chicken breasts, grilled and sliced thin
½ cup salted peanuts, coarsely chopped
1. In a small bowl, combine the lime juice, cilantro, fish sauce, sugar, ginger, garlic, and chile and let sit for at least 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the rice noodles and stir immediately. Cook the noodles, stirring frequently, until just tender, about 4 minutes. Drain and rinse the noodles with cold water until cool to the touch.
3. In a large salad bowl, combine the noodles with the lettuce, carrot, cucumber, radishes, and mint leaves. Add the sliced chicken and toss the salad with the dressing. Garnish with the peanuts.
Per serving (based on 8): 200 calories, 5 grams protein, 36 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fat, no cholesterol, 530 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.

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