Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Vietnamese Hot and Sour Salad

Soy sauce and tofu haters look away now - this is one hell of a zingy salad which is the perfect antidote to heavy, rich winter comfort food. Now that spring is here, this salad, teeming with lemon grass, coriander, mint, lime, soy sauce and beansprouts is the most amazing way to wake up your tastebuds. I kid you not, the first time I ate this salad, the main thing that concerned me was WHEN CAN I MAKE THIS AGAIN. It also falls nicely into the healthy territory, unless you're keeping an eye on your sodium intake or over-do the vegetable oil with the tofu.
This is also a pretty impressive 'entertaining' dish, as it looks gorgeous on the plate (you should assemble it yourself though, it's a bit fiddly.) And be warned, it is a little on the salad-y side in terms of portions. But so, so amazingly good. As I've said in my previous post on Tofu Sambal, tofu is something most people find a bit too weird to try to cook with but I'm a hell of a convert and at £1 it's pretty cheap protein. I do literally have to stop myself eating it as it's cooking now, I love it so much, and we usually have a couple of packs knocking around the cupboard for a stir fry.
That said I'm no wild evangelist of tofu as a dietary staple - I'm more aware of how the knock-on effect of mass farming of soya beans can be damaging to the environment,  (although nowhere near as bad as the energy that goes into farming a single cow), and additionally regular consumption of soy-products can interfere with your internal chemistry, oestrogen in particular. And I find it comforting that in places like China where the use of tofu is really common, it's often put alongside chicken and pork in dishes. Tofu's a brilliant alternative protein source and tastes really nice, but that said I'm making steak tomorrow! Everything in moderation! Hooray!
Enough out of me about bloody tofu already.

Vietnamese hot and sour salad
For the dressing (make while you're pressing your tofu - lets the flavours mix)
  • 80ml of lime juice (about two limes juiced well)
  • 80ml of soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp grated carrot
  • Pinch of chilli flakes
  • 2 garlic cloves (crushed)
  • 4 tbsp caster sugar (NEEDS to be fine sugar, otherwise whizz in a blender)
For the salad 
  • One pack of tofu 
  • 100g beansprouts
  • 125g of rice noodles
  • Large handful of mint 
  • Large handful of coriander 
  • 2 lemongrass sticks
  • 2 spring onions
  • 2 tbsp roasted peanuts (chopped)
  • 7 or 8 nice cherry tomatoes, or equivalent in plum tomatoes
  • 1/2 a cucumber. [I've made this for someone who hated cucumber and substituted stirfried pak choi, fyi, so don't write it off if you don't like cucumber, I know there's a surprising amount of you out there!]
Step one with tofu is always press it - which simply means carefully taking it out of its package, wrapping it in a single sheet of kitchen roll or clean tea towel, and leaving two dinner plates on top for half an hour to an hour. While that's happening, make the dressing.
Juice the limes, and measure out the juice in a jug to get 80ml, although it won't matter all that much. Add 80ml of soy sauce to the lime juice, bringing the liquidmark up to about 160ml. Crush in two peeled garlic cloves (I have no idea why Jamie Oliver always loves shouting about crushing garlic with the skin on, he maintains it's just a nifty trick but I always find I end up crushing in about half of what I should get, and end up picking bits of garlic skin out so I can get the whole clove in.). Grated and add the 3 tbsp of carrot, a pinch of chilli flakes and finally 4 tbsp of caster sugar. Whisk, whisk, whisk, then have a little taste. I like that really salty punch that soy sauce gives so add a bit more if you like, otherwise, maybe a little more lime, just go with what you think it's best.
After you've let the tofu press, and have drained off the excess water and patted dry with another piece of kitchen roll, slice into thin strips. Put a decent amount of vegetable oil in your best non-stick frying pan and get it quite hot, then delicately add in the strips. While they sizzle away, you can get to the chopping stage.

Using a large knife, if you have one - which it almost always is worth having even if you're only an occasional cook - finely chop the coriander and mint together. Carefully slice off the tough outer skin of the lemongrass, and chop them into thin slices, then add to the coriander and mint, chopping all the while, then chop and add the two spring onions. Put the whole fragrant mix of herbs in your largest bowl, which you'll eventually be mixing the noodles in with. 
If your tofu is still looking a little anaemic and is still not golden, keep frying, and turning every now and then, otherwise feel free to take it off the heat and leave to drain on a piece of kitchen roll. Put a large-ish pot on your kitchen counter, add the beansprouts and noodles and pour over the boiling water. Slam the lid on and leave until the noodles are soft.I used to be able to buy uncooked rice noodles, but now I can only find ones which are already soft, disappointingly. Still, let it sit for five minutes or so.
Using chopsticks to mix the noodles and beansprouts with the chopped herbs
While the noodles are sitting in water, slice your cucumber horizontally into long strips, and cut your tomatoes into halves or quarters, whatever's easier to pick up with chopsticks. Arrange the cucumbers in a round shape (like in the picture) on two plates, and dot the edge with tomatoes.
Drain the softened bean sprouts and noodles over the sink and try to let as much water drip off as possible. Then tip into the big bowl with the mint, coriander, etc. Use chop sticks, if you find it easier, to mix throughly, then tip into the centre of the two plates. Finally, add the tofu on top and sprinkle over some chopped peanuts if you like. Serve the dressing at the table, and enjoy!


  1. Despite what I said the other day about tofu this does look p good, I might give it a go. Though I might add chicken or pork too as I like meat (lol)

  2. Well in that case I'd thinly slice some chicken or turkey breast and marinade that in soy sauce or off-the-shelf teriyaki? It's too delicate a salad for beef, imo, plus if you're going to go down the whole beef with soy sauce route, this is what I'm making tomorrow (it is goddamned delicious)

  3. I just made this recipe with chicken instead of tofu :3 It was delicious! I had to substitute dried mint for fresh and crushed chillies for chilli flakes, but they worked pretty well as alternatives. The only problem I had was with the lemongrass - maybe I didn't slice it thinly enough, but it was so tough that I wound up picking the pieces out. Maybe next time I'll try whizzing it in the food processor to make a paste, or boiling it first to soften.


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