For the past month or so, stories of record-breaking heat waves across the country have dominated the news headlines. Although we’ve been spared from much of it here in the Pacific NW (in fact, many people tire of us complaining that it’s not warm enough), I got a glimpse of some pretty oppressive heat during my summer travels. There were moments of our week-long trip to New York City (my old stomping ground and very favorite restaurant city) when I barely even wanted to eat! Almost no dish would have been light enough to counteract that heat. But then it came to me–Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad.
I’ve always been a fan of rice noodle salads, but now I realize this is the ideal summer dinner: cool, soft noodles tossed with crisp, raw vegetables, herbs, and peanuts topped with slices of quickly grilled pork. You will need to bring a pot of water to a boil (and then immediately turn it off), but hopefully that won’t heat up the kitchen too much. If you fear it might, cook the noodles early in the morning and keep them chilled in a ziplock bag until dinner. (If they stick together, just give them another rinse in the colander before serving.)
For this recipe, I use thin dried rice vermicelli, also called rice sticks or maifun. They’re wispy, almost like angel hair pasta. The noodles are white in appearance and should only have two ingredients: rice (or rice flour) and water. Although similar in appearance, cellophane noodles are made from vegetable starch (mung bean or sweet potato) and appear more translucent.
Rice noodles come in a variety of widths, but the thin vermicelli works best for this type of salad. I just bring a pot of water to a boil, add the noodles, and turn off the heat. After about 2-3 minutes, the noodles are done. (Check the package directions as well, though, in case you’re actually using a thicker noodle than I used.) Drain them in a colander to make sure excess water doesn’t dilute the dressing. If the noodles are too long for your taste, you can snip them into shorter lengths with a pair of kitchen shears.
Once the noodles cook, you’re ready to toss them with a tart and tangy dressing and your choice of raw vegetables. I always like to finish off the salad with a whole handful of fresh herbs–cilantro, mint, or even basil–and some peanuts for crunch. Maybe even a little dollop of Sriracha for kick. But that’s the beauty of this salad; it’s waiting for you to make it your own.