dsc00017.jpgThe Best of Vietnamese & Thai Cooking, pp. 34 and 184.

About four years ago, when I started the Weight Watchers diet that over 8 months enabled me to lose 30 pounds, I made a horrible discovery. An oil-based dressing contributed a disproportionate number of calories to a meal that consisted mainly of salad and either a protein or a starch. It was shocking to realize that out of a daily allowance of 20 to 24 points, 1 tablespoon of olive oil consumed 4 points. — the equivalent of one glass of wine! That’s too expensive for my taste. Barely enough to coat four lettuce leaves. WW’s proposed alternative, balsamic vinegar, served well in a pinch, but it didn’t really satisfy.

I wish I had known about Mai Pham Ginger-Lime Dipping Sauce when I was losing that weight. With recourse to a delicious salad dressing that contains no oil, I would have been much happier. A year ago, Sherry introduced me to Pham’s cookbook, The Best of Vietnamese & Thai Cooking. So far, every recipe in it that I’ve made has turned out well. Now that I’m back on my diet for a while, I intend to make the most of this sauce.

First, I present the Ginger-Lime Dipping Sauce, which I use as a salad dressing. Then, I’ll offer the Warm Beef on Cool Noodles recipe with its ancillary recipes. When I describe how I prepare it, you’ll see that I’m combining the two recipes, eliminating some of the ingredients, and substituting others. But for those of you who do not feel the need to be on a diet, enjoy the recipes to the fullest.

Mai’s version:

The dipping sauce:

Makes 2/3 cup.

2 cloves garlic, sliced

2 fresh Thai bird  or any chilies, chopped, or 1 T ground chili paste

2 T very finely minced fresh ginger

1/3 fish sauce

2 T fresh lime juice preferably with pulp

1/4 cup water

4 T sugar

Place the garli, chilies, chili paste, and ginger in a mortar and pound into a paste. Transfer to a mixing bowl and add the remaining ingredients and mix until well blended. Transfer to a glass jar and cover with a tight lid. If refrigerated the sauce will keep up to 3 weeks.

My version:

I use only chili paste and not the finely chopped chili. I also use only 2 to 3 tablespoons of sugar. All the ingredients go straight into a jar to be violently shaken.  It sits on my fridge shelf in between  the times I use some for salad.

Warm beef on cool noodles:

the salad:

2 cups shredded romaine lettuce

2 cups bean sprouts

1 cup julienned cucumbers

1/3 cup chopped fresh mint leaves

1/3 cup chopped fresh Thai basil leaves

noodles

1/2 lb dried rice vermicelli boiled 4 to 5 mins, rinsed and drained

topping

1 lb top sirloin, thinly sliced across the grain about 1/4 inch thick and 2 inches long

2 T minced lemon grass

1 tsp fish sauce

1 tsp soy sauce

1/2 tsp sugar

2 T vegetable oil

3 cloves garlic, sliced

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

garnish

2 T fried shallots (recipe to follow)

2 T chopped roasted peanuts

10 fresh cilantro sprigs

Vietnamese dipping sauce (recipe to follow)

Combine all salad ingredients and toss gently. Place about a cup of the salad mixture in individual pasta bowls. Top each with about two cups of the noodles. Set the prepared noodle bowls aside.

Combine the beef, lemon grass, fish sauce, soy sauce, and sugar in a mixing bowl and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large nonstick fry pan over high heat. Add the garlic ad onion and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Remove beef from marinade and stir-fry until just done, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat.

Divide the beef topping among the bowls and garnish each with shallots, peanuts, and cilantro. Invite each guest to drizzle on 3 to 4 T of the Vietnamese dipping sauce. Have them toss the noodles several times with chopsticks to blend the ingredients.

fried shallots

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup thinly sliced shallots

Line a cookie tray with paper towels and spread the shallots on top. Let sit for 15 to 20 mins to air dry. (This technique helps make the shallots crispy.) Heat the oil in a skillet over low heat. (The oil is ready when a piece of shallot slowly bubbles and floats to the top.) Add the shallots and using chopsticks or a small spatula, stir the shallots so the do not tangle. Fry the shallots until golden, about 5 mins. With a slotted spoon or skimmer, remove the shallots and drain on paper towels. Save the oil for another use. When the shallots are cool, transfer to a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. They keep at room temperature for 2 weeks.

vietnamese dipping sauce

2 small cloves garlic, sliced

1 tsp ground chili paste

1 fresh thai bird chili, chopped (optional)

1/4 cup fish sauce

2/3 cup hot water

2 T fresh lime juice with pulp

1/4 cup sugar

2 T shredded carrots for garnish

Place garlic, chili paste in a mortar. With a pestle, pound into a paste. If you do not have a mortar and pestle, finely mince the garlic and chili.

Combine the garlic mixture with the remaining ingredients in a small mixing bowl. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Ladle sauce into serving bowls and float the carrot slivers on top.

Putting it all together:

Instead of the Vietnamese Dipping Sauce, I use the Ginger-Lime one above at top. I chopped everything in the G-L Dipping Sauce, but then pulse it in the food processor. From there, it goes into a jar.  Since rice noodles are only slightly more forgiving than pasta made of wheat, I cut the amount for my serving in half. Sherry boils the noodles, removes them from the water, and dries them on paper towels. If very tangled, she uses scissors to cut them into bunches,  separates the strands with her fingers, and strews them over the lettuce in the bowl.

I am renouncing red beef — in fact, most meat — for the time being, but I’ve followed the directions to the letter and the result has been wonderful. Instead of meat, I am going to substitute shrimps or prawns, perhaps scallops, maybe even a small bit of grilled salmon.

The fried shallots are a great garnish to have on hand. However, they, too, will be used sparingly for the next while.

Last thoughts:

I could live on this salad for most of the year. It’s that good and simple. It requires assembly, which is always a little tedious, but the results are very satisfying.  Now that I think of it, Mai Pham’s book has quite a few recipes that I’ll be trying while I shed a little extra weight.

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