This is such a light and refreshing salad, bursting with fresh herbs and cooling young coconut, it makes for a perfect lunch or light dinner on a hot day.
1 whole young coconut (drinking coconut), flesh chopped and water reserved
splash of fish sauce
1 large free-range chicken breast, skinless
200g bean-thread noodles
3 handfuls beansprouts, blanched for a few seconds in boiling water and refreshed in cold water
1 tbsp light oil
1 lime, juiced
1 handful Vietnamese mint leaves
1 handful Thai basil leaves
1 handful perilla leaves (from Asian grocers), small leaves whole or larger leaves shredded
1 handful shaved coconut, toasted
nuoc cham sauce (see recipe)
1. Add the coconut water and enough water to just cover the chicken breast to a small pan. Add a splash of fish sauce, bring to the simmer, add the chicken breast and poach for eight minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to stand for two minutes in the water (it will finish cooking in the hot water, but cooking time may vary a little depending on the size of the breast). Remove the chicken and rest before slicing thinly.
2. Cook the noodles as per the packet instructions, refresh in cold water, then cut into short lengths.
3. Blanch the beansprouts for a few seconds in boiling water. Drain and gently squeeze out any moisture.
4. Add the noodles to a bowl with a dash of oil, stir through the coconut flesh, lime juice, mint, Thai basil and perilla leaves, reserving some herbs to garnish.
5. Place the noodle mix on a plate with the beansprouts, chicken, toasted coconut and remaining herbs, and spoon over the nuoc cham generously.
Drink: Iced tea
Once you've got the technique down and a bit of a production line set up, these are really simple to turn out. The trick is to make sure you soak the rice paper enough for it to start to soften, but not so much that it's hard to handle since it will soften further as you add the filling. Once you have the knack you can play with different fillings; just make them immediately before serving because they don't refrigerate well.
200g rice vermicelli
1 punnet small Swiss brown mushrooms, finely sliced
1 punnet abalone (oyster) mushrooms, finely sliced
½ recipe nuoc cham (see recipe)
1 handful perilla leaves (from Asian grocers), shredded
2 Chinese-style roast duck breasts, finely sliced (see tip)
2 tbsp toasted ground rice (any kind of rice, toasted until brown in a dry pan then crushed in a mortar)
2 green chillies, finely sliced, seeds in
2 large handfuls beansprouts, blanched in boiling water for five seconds and cooled
1 packet Vietnamese rice paper rounds
1/2 cup good-quality coconut cream
2 heaped tbsp hoisin sauce
crispy fried shallots (from Asian grocers; optional)
1. Cook the vermicelli according to the packet instructions, refresh in cold water and cut into 15-centimetre lengths.
2. Dress the mushrooms heavily with the nuoc cham and set aside for five minutes to soften.
3. Set up all your ingredients on a clean bench in a row so you can work systematically (perilla, duck, toasted rice, chilli, mushrooms, beansprouts and vermicelli), leaving enough space in front of you to roll. Fill a large shallow bowl with hot water and, working one at a time, immerse a rice paper round in the water (do this reasonably quickly since they will soften on the bench; if they are too soft they become hard to work with), lie the round on the clean bench and start adding your ingredients one at a time to form a line just below the centre of the round. Fold the edge closest to you over the filling and roll over, folding the sides in tightly as you do. The roll will seal itself once fully rolled. Set aside and repeat.
4. Mix the coconut cream and hoisin together, sprinkle over some fried shallots (if using) and serve with the rolls.
Tip: At some supermarkets you can now buy Chinese-style duck breasts that are already roasted, or you can pick up a roasted bird (or half) from a Chinese barbecue restaurant.
Drink: Cold, crisp lager
Nuoc cham is a classic Vietnamese sauce flavoured with lime, lemongrass, chilli and palm sugar. Like its Thai counterpart, its success relies on the balance between sweet, salty, hot and sour. Nuoc cham is great on just about everything - drizzled over rice noodle salad, with rice paper rolls, or served with grilled or fried fish or meat.
1 1/2 tbsp finely grated palm sugar
1 small clove garlic, smashed
60ml fish sauce
2 limes, juiced
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 stem lemongrass (pale base only), finely chopped
2 bullet chillies, seeds in, finely chopped
1. Combine the sugar, garlic, fish sauce and 50 millilitres of water in a small bowl and stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the remaining ingredients and allow to stand for five minutes before using. You can adjust the nuoc cham with more lime, sugar, chilli or fish sauce if needed.
Makes a small bowl