Vietnamese Noodle Salad a.k.a. Adventures with my Mandoline

Fridays are usually take-out nights in the Row Home Eats household. After a long week, there’s nothing like curling up to a movie and a Los Jalapenos steak, pepper and onion burrito (hold the rice, add guacamole, please.) We don’t have to worry about cooking and our weekly food supply has diminished just in time for our Saturday shopping expeditions at the Reading Terminal. This Friday, however, we had some extra marinated flank steak calling our name. My butcher, Harry Ochs, has an amazing soy-ginger marinade that they use on flank steak and chicken breast. It’s normally available pre-packaged but, if not, they’re always happy to marinate your choice of meat to order. Flank steak is a difficult topic for us because I enjoy my meat a little more well done, while my carnivorous husband, Mr. Row Home Eats, likes it rare. We recently discovered a happy medium–we cut the steak into skewers and the pieces can be cooked to order. Happiness all around.

As I was contemplating the sides to go with our marinated steak skewers, my husband suggested an Asian noodle salad. The evening took off from there. Have I mentioned that Vietnam is my favorite restaurant? Have I devoted extensive posts to my adoration for Vietnamese food? Why is it, then, that I have never attempted to make it at home? That was it. I was sold on making a Vietnamese noodle salad topped with grilled steak similar to my favorite vermicelli bowl at Vietnam.

I did a little googling and came across this recipe. I didn’t realize it was Bobby Flay until just now so you can stop making fun of me. I did, of course, make major alterations to the recipe based on available ingredients and taste preference. My amalgamated recipe follows.

Bobby Flay’s Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad, adapted

  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, chopped (omitted–Mr. RHE doesn’t like spicy)
  • 1 tablespoon honey (used more like 2-3 tbsp)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce (didn’t have. Used 3 tbsp soy sauce instead)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt(omitted)
  • 1 pound dried rice vermicelli
  • 2 carrots, julienned
  • cucumber, halved, peeled, seeded and sliced into thin halfrounds
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint (omitted, didn’t have.)
  • 1/2 cup finely shredded napa cabbage (probably used closer to 1-2 cups. What can I say, I like cabbage)
  • 1/4 cup chopped dryroasted nuts

I started by slicing and skewering the flank steak to prepare it for the grill.

While we waited for the grill to pre-heat, I pulled out my mandoline and began wreaking havoc on my kitchen. I was inspired to use my mandoline after my recent post on kitchen tools. My friend, Alexa, commented that she loved her mandoline and I realized that I’ve only used it once, rather unsuccessfully, since we received it as a wedding gift. Another friend, Brad, shared his unfortunate mandoline experience (unfortunate for his finger, that is) and I was intrigued. Perhaps I should give my mandoline another shot, I thought.

Last time I used the mandoline, I was less than successful. It was difficult to get the hang of it and I couldn’t get a clean “sweep” back and forth. This time I started with the easy English cucumber. The mandoline glided back and forth effortlessly–I was back in business! Then I moved on the the cabbage. I was excited to try the julienne blade as I had only ever used the straight slicer. It wasn’t entirely unsuccessful.

Most of it got into the bowl I placed beneath…it went a little more downhill when I switched to carrots. In the end, I got a nice amount of sliced and julienned vegetables. I think they look rather pretty!

My mandoline was a little worse for the wear. Does anyone have tips as to how to remove carrot stains?

As I finished playing with my mandoline, the water started boiling for the rice noodles. As I was just about to toss them in, my husband came in and informed me that we were out of propane halfway through the cooking process. Chalk that up to another typical cooking experience. Sigh. Under the broiler they went and I began prepping the sauce.

I combined the soy sauce, lime juice, honey, cilantro and garlic in my mini-Cuisinart. See, I TOLD you I use that thing a ton! I was wondering why Bobby didn’t use any rice vinegar in his recipe so I tossed a bit in the mixture. After I whirred the thing a bit, I deemed the mixture a bit thin and decided to add some peanuts. Where did I get said peanuts? Well, for those of you who might have thought that I was some fancy foodie, think again. I picked the peanuts out of a bag of trail mix that was sitting in my fridge. Yes I did. Nothing is beneath me, my friends. Here’s the Cuisinart in action.

After the sauce was made, I brought the water back to a boil and tossed in the rice noodles. Instructions said to boil for 2 minutes but they weren’t quite ready and I added another minute or two. Then I drained them and covered in cold water, rinsing them well. The rice noodle give off  a lot of gumminess so the rinsing is key. Also, this is a cold noodle salad and we want to keep it that way. Here’s a boring white on white picture (with a shadow) to show you what it looks like at this point.

I pulled the flank steak out of the broiler and it looked darn good. We don’t need no stinkin’ grill!

While the steak was cooling a bit, I tossed the noodles and vegetable slaw with the dressing. I didn’t think the dressing would be sufficient (it was only about a cup) but it soaked into the noodles nicely.  I also threw in some more ground peanuts, sliced green onion and some extra cilantro on top.

I mixed it all up and put the remaining cucumbers on top.

Then we dug in! I prepared myself a bowl with a couple slices of flank steak and, if I can say so myself, the dish looked eerily similar to my favorite place!

I topped mine with some sriracha because I like the heat! Then we settled down to an evening of Mad Men on DVD. The noodle salad was a hit! It had a very strong lime/acidic flavor, probably due to the extra rice wine vinegar I added. The vegetables and chopped peanuts added a welcome crunch to the chewiness of the noodles and the steak was, not surprisingly, a perfectly charred, meaty addition to the bowl. A word to the wise–this dish does not keep well at all. The noodles harden up a bit and the flavor subsides substantially. If you’re going to make it, be sure you eat it all the same day. It’s so darn good that it shouldn’t be too difficult.

Turkey Bolognese

Have we gotten a chance to discuss my affinity for all things Italian? No? Ah, let me count the ways.

1. I studied Italian for many years in high school and college

2. I live in a predominately Italian-American neighborhood

3. My husband is part Italian

4. Although it may seem “boring” or “safe,” Italian cuisine is one of my favorites

5. Oh yeah, I got engaged in Italy. In a vineyard. Yup, my husband is the best.

6. When we got married and I contemplated the pros and cons of changing my last name (and after the husband nixed my suggestion that he take my last name,) I very seriously suggested that we make up a new Italian last name and both adopt it. How could would that be?!

I also love all things pasta. Unfortunately, my waistline does not love my fondness for pasta, but you will come to see that we eat past a couple of nights per week.  Last week, when I was on my cooking frenzy, I decided to defrost the ground turkey that had been sitting in the freezer for a few days. One of our less lofty goals is to empty out the freezer a bit (I haven’t told my husband, but this is my new inspiration for freezer emptying.) We’ve been eating quite a few burgers this summer–nothing wrong with a good burger!–and it was too hot for meatloaf, so I decided to do something different with the ground meat. Although it’s a bit off season, my husband and I love a good bolognese, so I thought I’d whip one up. And, if all else failed, I could freeze it for a later meal. Ah, the irony.

Turkey Bolognese

1 lb. ground turkey

1/2 onion, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

1/4 cup red wine

2 cans crushed tomatoes (or use fresh if you so desire)

Olive oil

Fresh herbs (in lieu of fresh herbs, I’m a fan of dried oregano)

Probably some other stuff that I’ll remember as I’m typing it up…

I started by sauteeing the carrots and onions in olive oil until they started to soften, about 2-3 minutes.

Then I added the fresh herbs. When cooking most things, it’s best to add fresh herbs closer to the end. However, when using more robust herbs, I find it’s ok to add them in the beginning. I added chopped parsley, oregano, thyme and sage.  I probably would have tossed a bay leaf in there if I had thought about it. I would have also added a tablespoon or two of tomato paste if I had some.

Instead, I added the turkey meat and began to brown it. I only browned it for a few minutes until I couldn’t see any more pink (it’s important to cook turkey all the way through, but this was going to simmer for a while.) I then tossed the red wine in and let the alcohol cook off. After a minute or so, I added the crushed tomatoes. I know, I know, I’m using canned tomatoes in the middle of the summer. I haven’t gotten to the point where I feel comfortable doing the whole tomato peeling and seeding thang so I use canned tomatoes sometimes. I’m ok with this part of my life. I also get a good deal on them at BJ’s, so there.

After mixing thoroughly, I turned the stove down to simmer away for the rest of the day. When my husband came home from work, he was greeted with the very Italian scent of tomatoes on the stove–a smell that often makes it way up and down the streets of South Philadelphia. I fit right in.

Carbo Loading

Recently, my husband and I have both challenged ourselves to doing new things. My challenge has been this blog and I’m feeling pretty good about things thus far. Ironically, while my challenge has been about cooking, eating and sitting on my couch, writing, his has been a little more active.

My husband is one of those people that is notoriously difficult to shop before because he never seems to want or need anything (don’t worry, I balance that out quite well.) The famous story involves a shopping trip when he was a child. His grandmother took him and his sister shopping and told them that they could pick out one toy each. His response: “no thank you grandma, I don’t need anything.” His sister, who is a little more like me, took the opportunity to ask if that would enable her to get two gifts!  For this reason, I always try to note when he says he likes something so that I can add it to my list for birthdays and holidays and so that I can tell others what he would like.

This past Christmas, we decided to keep gifts very low key. After a lovely dinner and small gifts, my father-in-law called everyone into the kitchen for one last gift. I assumed it was something for his wife, but we walked into the kitchen to see a huge, bulky item covered with a sheet. He then announced that he wanted to give his son something that he had not had the opportunity to give him as a child–he lifted the sheet and exposed a beautiful Trek bike with clipless pedals for a serious bike rider. Now, my husband has always enjoyed cycling (and we have numerous bikes and bike parts in our basement to prove it.) His father, on the other hand, is a cycling fanatic. He is in amazing shape and competes in races and triathlons on a regular basis. In fact, he just placed second at a triathlon this weekend. What an inspiration! My husband was extremely touched by this gesture and thus set out to learn how to ride this new style of bike (clipless pedals are the type that you have to buy a special shoe that clips onto the pedals and is supposed to create a smoother and more powerful ride. I’m still not sure why they’re called clipless though.)

This isn’t really reading like a food blog, is it…

Fast forward to this summer. My husband has mastered the clipless technique and has been going on long rides 4-5 days per week. When he saw an advertisement for the Gran Fondo, he knew it was something that he wanted to attempt. Gran Fondo is Italian for big ride and it is an “Italian-style mass ride” with increments of 30, 60 and 100 miles. My husband decided to attempt the 60 mile course. For days in advance, he prepared his body, including hydrating, no drinking and getting plenty of sleep. The night before the ride, it was carbo loading time (cut back to food blogging.)

One of the most amazing pasta dishes I’ve ever made has been a fresh angel hair pasta tossed with local baby arugula, heirloom tomatoes and fresh chevre from Green Aisle Grocery, an awesome little grocery on Passyunk Avenue. If you haven’t been there, check it out! The owners, Adam and Andrew Erace are super nice and the store is dog friendly. You can’t beat that! They’re also the only store in the city at which you can buy Zahav hummus. YUM! Anyway, I was hoping to recreate the pasta dish but didn’t get a chance to stop at Green Aisle before dinner so I made do with what I had.

I started by roasting grape tomatoes in the oven at 400′ with lots of garlic and olive oil for about 30 minutes. The picture isn’t the best, but the caramelization that occurs in the oven is absolutely out of this world (not to mention the smell!) You also end up with a sort of tomato-infused olive oil. I know it’s the height of tomato season so please don’t hate on me for using grape tomatoes that probably came from somewhere far away. We usually eat tomatoes from the Farmers Market only, but there’s something about roasted grape tomatoes that drives me crazy–and the sale at Iovine’s didn’t hurt either.

While the tomatoes were roasting, I boiled water for the capellini and prepared my greens. I used baby arugula and some sort of impulse buy microgreen mix from Iovine’s. Aren’t the microgreens gorgeous?

After draining the pasta, I simply tossed in the greens and mixed until they were slightly wilted.

Then I added the tomatoes

Oh wait, can’t forget the cheese. Goat cheese makes everything taste better.

Top it with a generous splash of olive oil from Fattoria Fibbiano, the amazing agriturismo where we were engaged in 2008, and we were ready to eat!

The next day, my husband woke up early and joined almost 2,000 of his closest friends to ride the challenging 63 mile course. He finished the hilly ride in just over 5 1/2 hours and I couldn’t be more proud.