This salad has it all going on! it’s hot, its cold, it spicy, it’s sweet, it’s healthy ..and it's something you will probably start craving frequently. ( welcome to the club!)
The contrasting yet complimentary tastes of crisp cool veggies (like cucumber, carrot, red bell pepper and bean sprouts) sit on top of a bed of soft vermicelli rice noodles. Thai basil, mint and cilantro add additional flavor. All a perfect backdrop for the star of the show...Lemongrass Grilled Tofu!
If you peeked ahead and looked at the ingredient list for this salad and saw more than just a few items and thought..nah..too hard. Hold up! there may be a few items (o.k., kind of a lot) on the list but they are SUPER easy to prepare items. Stay with me, and I'll walk you through just how easy it is to make this healthy flavorful meal.
First we are going to make the marinade for the tofu. If tofu isn't your thing, feel free to substitute chicken or even prawns. Both would be fantastic. Cut up the white part of the lemongrass stalks and slice the shallot in small pieces.
Add the lemongrass to a food processor or a blender and pulse. (I'm using a blender here) Make sure you take a big wiff of that freshly ground lemongrass, the aroma is AMAZING!
Add the salt, sugar, shallot, and the Chinese 5 spice. You can find Chinese 5 spice in most larger grocery stores or Asian specialty stores. Even though it's called Chinese 5 spice, it's actually used in many Vietnamese dishes( like Pho). It's a blend of star anise, cinnamon, cloves, fennel, and Szchewan pepper.
Once the lemongrass mixture forms a paste like consistency, place the paste in a medium/large bowl and add the oil( I used Canola). Mix thoroughly. Cut the tofu into long strips (about 5-6 strips). Rub the marinade on all sides of the tofu and let sit at least 30 min. ( and up to 24 hr.)
While the tofu is marinating , prepare the vermicelli noodles according to package directions and prep the veggies. Cut the carrots, cucumber and bell pepper. I like to serve the salad with big sprigs of basil, cilantro and mint and let each person snap off their desired proportions of each herb. But, you could also separate the basil leaves, chop the cilantro etc. if you wish. Rinse and drain the noodles. Set aside.
Heat the grill or grill pan to medium. I prefer the grill pan for this recipe because the marinade is pretty thick, which means when you cook the tofu, little bits of the marinade fall off into the grill pan . I like to scoop up all these little browned bits and add them to the top of the salad because they have SO much flavor.
While to tofu is cooking, you can assemble the rest of the salad. Layer noodles on the bottom of a salad bowl and top with veggies and herbs. Sprinkle with peanuts if desired.
To make the dressing, add all ingredients to a small bowl and stir until thoroughly mixed and sugar has dissolved. I know, I know..the "Fish Sauce" can sound a bit gross. I have to admit, it was a deterrent for me for a while. I like fish, but somehow the thought of "fish sauce" , I don't know, just didn't sound appetizing.
I live right above a Vietnamese restaurant, which comes in pretty handy! Needless to say...I have Vietnamese food pretty frequently. For a few reasons: A) it's easy and healthy B) it's easy and healthy C) they have happy hour food and drinks during the dinner hour! Score!
The point to all of this is that I started asking about how things were made ..and low and behold - the fish sauce! it's in everything! (almost) I bought a bottle. I even tasted the fish sauce straight up to see what it was like. You know what? whoever decided to call it "fish sauce" did this little gem a disservice. It has a very subtle fish taste. Now I add it to many dishes.
If you're still not a fish sauce lover ( or you don't include fish in your diet) No worries! soy sauce makes a pretty good substitute.
This recipe calls for a red chili..the variety available to you will depend greatly on what part of the country you live...here's where you can dial up or dial down the heat of this dish. Pick one that matches your preference.
Add the grilled tofu...and see that wasn't so hard! Enjoy! ( add a sprinkle or two of Srirachia sauce if you'd like a little additional heat).
** Recipe inspired by and adapted from Feasting at Home's Vietnamese Vermicelli Bowl
Vietnamese Noodle Salad
For the Grilled Tofu
- 1 package of tofu 14 oz
- ½ cup finely chopped lemon grass 3 stalks
- 1 medium shallot chopped
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon Chinese five spice
- ¼ cup oil
For the Salad
- 8 oz. vermicelli noodles
- 1 medium red bell pepper cut into strips
- 1 english cucumber halved and sliced
- 1 handful thai basil or regular basil
- 1 handful cilantro
- 1 handful fresh mint
- 1 handful of bean sprouts optional
- 1-2 carrots peeled and cut into strips
- peanuts for topping if desired
For the Dressing
- ¼ cup fresh lime juice
- 2 Tablespoons water
- 1 Tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 Tablespoon sugar
- 1 small red chili medium spicy cut into thin slices (rings)
For the tofu marinade
- Cut white part of lemon grass stalks into small pieces and place into a food processor (or blender) and pulse. Add salt, sugar, shallot, and Chinese Five Star spice (available in larger grocery stores or Asian specialty stores) and continue to pulse into a thick “paste” like consistency. Place paste into a large bowl and add oil. Stir until fully combined. Cut tofu into long strips. Rub marinade paste on all sides of the tofu and let sit in bowl for 30 min.
For the Salad
- While tofu is marinating, cook vermicelli noodles according to package directions. Rinse and drain when fully cooked. Cut red pepper into thin strips. Cut cucumber in halves and then slice into bite size pieces (forming half moons). Cut carrot(s) into strips (or julienne slices) . Set aside.
For the Grilled Tofu
- Heat grill pan or grill to medium. Cook marinated tofu until grill marks are visible and tofu is cooked through ( approx. 4-5 min. each side) . Let cool and slice into bite size pieces.
For the dressing
- While the tofu is cooking, combine all dressing ingredients in a small bowl and stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Set aside.
- Add noodles, veggies( carrots, bell peppers, cucumber, bean sprouts), herbs (cilantro, basil, mint) and tofu to a salad bowl. Top with peanuts if desired. Spoon dressing over salad.