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Cellophane Noodle Salad

Cellophane Noodle Salad
Called nuoc mam in Vietnam and nam pla in Thailand, fish sauce is a salty and pungent seasoning used throughout Southeast Asia. The amber liquid is the filtered extract of small fish (typically anchovies), salt and water left to ferment in the sun. The resulting sharp taste and acrid aroma mellow with cooking. Fish sauces vary in character. Thai fish sauce, for example, tends to be paler and milder than Vietnamese fish sauce. Both are an essential seasoning in countless dishes, such as this Thai salad, and as a base for dipping sauces.

Ingredients:

  • 8 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 lemongrass stalk
  • 1 green jalapeño chili
  • 1/4 lb. ground pork
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. freshly ground white pepper
  • 3 oz. cellophane noodles, soaked in warm water
      for 30 minutes
  • 3 Tbs. fresh lime juice
  • 2 Tbs. fish sauce
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbs. water
  • 3 Tbs. canola oil
  • 1 cup peeled, seeded and julienned cucumber
  • 1/2 cup seeded and julienned red bell pepper
  • 3 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 8 red-leaf lettuce leaves
  • 2 Tbs. minced unsalted peanuts, toasted
  • 1 Tbs. shredded fresh mint
  • 1 Tbs. shredded fresh cilantro

Directions:

Soak the mushrooms in warm water to cover for 30 minutes. Drain, remove and discard the stems and cut the caps into fine julienne. Using only the pale bottom part of the lemongrass stalk, peel away the tough outer layer, smash the stalk with the side of a chefs knife and thinly slice on the diagonal. Seed the chili, then thinly slice into rings. Set the vegetables aside.

Season the pork with the salt and white pepper. In a sauté pan over high heat, sauté the pork until it turns opaque and is cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the pork to a sieve and let drain, then place in a large bowl. Drain the noodles and add to the bowl with the pork.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the lime juice, fish sauce, sugar and water. Heat until the sugar has dissolved, pour the mixture into a bowl and gradually whisk in the canola oil.

Add the cucumber, bell pepper, shallots, mushrooms, lemongrass and chili to the pork and noodles and toss to mix. Add the lime-juice mixture and toss to coat evenly.

Line a platter with the lettuce leaves. Top with the pork and noodles, garnish with the peanuts, mint and cilantro and serve. Serves 4.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Collection Series, Asian, by Farina Wong Kingsley (Simon & Schuster, 2003).