Thursday, September 12, 2013
If you've been around here for a while you will have noticed I love fresh herbs. I don't do the "add 1 tablespoon" thing. I go the whole hog and use fresh herbs such as mint, basil and coriander (cilantro) with reckless abandon, throwing in huge handfuls of each into my salads and using them in place of lettuce. I think I've always done this, but I also know marrying into a Vietnamese family has helped this little obsession along quite nicely too, as it's not an uncommon site in my mother-in-laws house to see huge -scrap that-, humongous platters of fresh herbs and salad greens served up with every feast we have.
When we all catch up to feast on banh xeo or rice paper rolls, bowlfuls of herbs are eaten, not just a mere sprinkle. I love it, and my herbs in our garden out back are one of my most prized possessions. Our mint grows in two big pots, which I alternate, trimming back one when it gets too leggy and old before I start picking from the other one, starting the cycle again. Thai basil grows everywhere in our garden, with its beautiful purple flowers adding a little drama here and there too.
Spring is the time when everything starts to come back to life and with all the rain we've had over the past few weeks the herbs have been looking rather lush and desperately in need of a good picking. So, I got to making one of my favourite kinds of salads. Slippery rice noodles, lightly pickled vegetables, tons of herbs and sesame seeds all bound together in a light sesame soy dressing with just a touch of licorice from the Chinese 5-spice.
spicy rice noodle salad with pickled vegetables + sesame soy dressing
If you have a mandolin or any sort of vegetable shredded, this comes in handy here. Of course you can use a sharp knife to finely shred the vegetables if you like, but I like the texture best if they are really, really fine. You can find rice vinegar and black vinegar (also made from rice) at your local Asian grocers. Just make sure you check the ingredients of the black vinegar if you are sensitive to gluten as some brands do contain wheat. I use Pun Chun brand. We have loads of Thai basil growing in our garden all year round, but if you can't get your hands on it, regular sweet basil is fine.
Serves 2 or more as a side
2 small carrots, peeled and shredded finely
1 small Lebanese cucumber, shredded finely
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup (125ml) rice vinegar
2 tablespoons brown rice syrup or unrefined raw sugar
150g thin rice noodles
1 cup finely shredded cabbage
1/2 cup Thai basil leaves (or use regular basil), roughly torn
1/2 cup coriander (cilantro) leaves, roughly torn
1/2 cup mint leaves, roughly torn
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
2 teaspoons lightly toasted sesame seeds
sesame soy dressing
1 tablespoon gluten-free soy sauce or tamari
1 tablespoon (Chinese) black vinegar
1/2 teaspoon pure sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice
1 birds-eye chilli, finely chopped (de-seed if you aren't a fan of hot)
Place the shredded carrots and cucumber in separate bowls. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of salt over each and mix well to evenly distribute. Set aside for 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile combine rice vinegar and brown rice syrup/sugar in a small saucepan and bring up to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 4-5 minutes or until reduced by half, thickened and slightly syrupy. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Squeeze excess liquid from the carrot and cucumber and combine the vegetables in a small bowl with the cooled vinegar syrup.
Cook rice noodles in a saucepan of boiling salted water for 2-4 minutes or until just tender. Drain into a sieve and run under cold water to prevent them from cooking any further. Drain well and place into a large bowl along with the shredded cabbage, herbs and sesame seeds.
Combine dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Drain pickled vegetables (you can re-use the syrup for more pickled vegetables if you like and then store them in the fridge for 2-3 days) and add to the salad bowl. Pour over dressing and serve immediately.
Inspired by this recipe from the archives.
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