Growing up in Miami I had very little access to Asian food (greasy Chinese takeout was pretty much it) and I never really knew what Vietnamese cuisine was until I moved to Boston. The first time I had a noodle salad, I was blown away. It came in a big, deep bowl with tons of fresh herbs and vegetables and a slightly sweet, acidic dressing. As with most noodle bowls, I felt like I could eat tons and tons of it in one sitting. (I didn’t.)
I finally decided to take a stab at recreating it at home and the results were really good! I took a shortcut by using broccoli slaw, which can be found at most markets. I also added savoy cabbage and scallions for a more authentic flavor and some cashews for crunch. The salad was light and healthy and the mint, cilantro and basil lent a fresh, summery taste to the dish. I also added slices of flank steak that had been rubbed with brown sugar and chile powder for a sweet and spicy protein. For me, it’s the perfect summer salad.
Vietnamese Noodle Salad with Sweet and Spicy Steak
If you’ve got a grill, I would prepare the steak with the rub and throw it on the grill. You’ll get a nicer char than if you follow the method below. Since this salad is served at room temperature, you can grill the steak and prep the vegetables and dressing ahead of time if you’re having company over. Just make sure you keep the steak in an airtight container so it won’t dry out.
If you can’t find broccoli slaw at your market, substitute a couple of shredded carrots and a shredded daikon or jicama.
For the steak:
A 1 lb. Flank steak
2 tbsp. light brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. Chile de Arbol powder (or a pinch of cayenne pepper)
juice of 1 lime
For the salad:
8 oz. Asian Rice Vermicelli
12 oz. broccoli slaw (or 8 oz. shredded carrots and 4 oz. shredded daikon or jicama)
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced (white and light green parts only)
1/4 of a medium-sized Savoy cabbage, very thinly sliced
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
4 oz. cashews
For the dressing:
3/4 cup unseasoned brown rice vinegar (or regular rice vinegar if you can’t find brown)
3 tbsp. natural cane sugar
2 tbsp. fish sauce
For the steak:
Preheat the oven to 325° and set a large, heavy bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Combine the brown sugar, chile powder and salt in a bowl and rub it all over the meat. Once the pan is hot, sear the steak for 1 – 2 minutes on each side. Pour the lime juice over the steak, tent the pan with some foil and place it in the oven for 12 – 20 minutes, depending on how rare you like it. I leave it in until the inside is just pink, about 16 minutes. Once it’s done, remove from heat, let it stand on a cutting board for 10 minutes, then slice into thin strips.
For the salad:
Place the noodles in a large bowl and cover with boiling water for 15 minutes. They’ll be just the right amount of done at this point. To save time, I like to fill a large bowl with water and microwave it until the water boils (5 – 8 minutes depending on your microwave), then submerge the noodles in that. This way, you only have 1 bowl to wash. Once the noodles are done, drain them in a colander and run some cold water over them to stop them from becoming too mushy. Set aside. (Note: You make want to cut the noodles with some kitchen shears because they tend to be very long and make for some slightly messy eating. Just know that the Chinese are superstitious about noodle length and extra long noodles signify good luck!)
Make the dressing by whisking the ingredients together until the sugar has dissolved.
Toss the broccoli slaw, scallions, cabbage, mint, basil and cilantro in a very large bowl, making sure the vegetables are all evenly distributed. Add the noodles, then the dressing and toss until the noodles and vegetables are evenly distributed and coated with the dressing.
To serve, place a heap of the noodles in a bowl (make sure you pull from the bottom so they’ll be dressed), add a few slices of steak and a small handful of cashews. I like to keep a bottle of Sriracha on the table in case anyone wants to spice it up (of course).