A tangy and spicy Vietnamese salad recipe that’s loaded with flavor and topped with plenty of fresh vegetables plus lots of garlicky shrimp!
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This is a salad, but don’t let it fool you. It makes a great meal and packs a wallop of flavor. There’s rice noodles, spinach, carrots, cilantro, and a flavorful dressing. I like to add avocado – I’m pretty sure avocado is not a traditional Vietnamese ingredient but I personally think it fits in just fine with the rest of them. And to top it off, shrimp sauteed in lots of garlic. I used to live in the Twin Cities and there were a plethora of Vietnamese restaurants to choose from. But, a few years ago I returned to my rural roots. Vietnamese restaurants are a little hard to come by in rural Minnesota. Finding some pho would mean a four hour round trip these days. Luckily, creating some of the staples that you’d find in your favorite Vietnamese restaurants is totally do-able at home.
The first thing you want to do is prepare the toppings. This includes chopping 2 cups of fresh spinach and 1 cup of cilantro. Cut an avocado in half and then cut into slices. There are a few options when it comes to the carrot. You can grate them using something like a cheese grater or with a food processor. If you can julienne carrots with a knife then you are more talented than I. Every time I attempt to julienne a carrot, I nearly lose a finger. So, the cheese grater is usually the choice for me. I like to boil the noodles at this point as well, drain them, and set them aside. Simply cook 1 package of vermicelli rice sticks and drain. The noodles in this salad are served cold so it’s OK if they sit and cool while you finish the salad.
Now for the good part – the dressing. This dressing is simple but the flavor is out of this world. Just mix some Sambal Oelek – this is a spicy Southeast Asian chili garlic sauce that you can find in most grocery stores nowadays – the juice of 1 large lime (about 2 Tbsp.), 1/2 cup water, 1 1/2 Tbsp. sugar, and 2 Tbsp. of fish sauce in a small bowl. Simply stir to combine. If you’ve never used fish sauce before, you may be thrown by the smell of it. It’s fishy. Really fishy. A lot of people say they can’t stand the smell of fish sauce, but they love the taste. I may be a weirdo because I love both. Many of my favorite foods contain a decent amount of fish sauce. This dressing is a little spicy – if you’d like it less spicy, just add less chili garlic sauce. You can also add more sugar to balance out the spice and bring it down to your liking.
At this point, you can prepare the shrimp. Peel a lb. or so of shrimp after it has thawed. I am a bit of a garlic hound, so I really lay it on with this recipe. Heat a pan with a tablespoon or so of cooking oil on medium high heat. As you do this, mince eight cloves of garlic. Toss the garlic in the pan and cook until fragrant, about two minutes. Add the shrimp to the pan with a pinch of kosher salt and pepper. Cook for about two minutes on each side. When it comes to shrimp (or any seafood, really) my recommendation is not to overcook them. Overcooked seafood is rubbery. When they turn from translucent grey to that quintessential opaque pink shrimp color, they are done.
Now it’s time to put it all together. Start with the noodles. Line the bottom of your favorite bowl with a big heap of them. Arrange the spinach, cilantro, carrots, and avocado on top. I like to add the dressing at this point. Spoon a couple tablespoons of the dressing all over the ingredients. The dressing will seep into the noodles and infuse the bowl with spicy, tangy, salty goodness. I like mine to be sort of drenched in the dressing, but you can add as much or little as you like. And last but not least, top the whole thing with your garlicky shrimp. Now you can get your Vietnamese salad fix at home!
A tangy and spicy Vietnamese salad recipe that's loaded with flavor and topped with plenty of fresh vegetables plus lots of garlicky shrimp!
- 1 carrots - grated
- 2 cups fresh spinach - chopped
- 1 cup fresh cilantro - chopped
- 1 avocado - sliced
- 1 package Vermicelli rice sticks
Grate the carrot, chop 2 cups spinach and 1 cup cilantro, and slice 1 avocado into pieces.
- Mix 1 Tbsp. Sambal Oelek, the juice of 1 lime, 1/2 cup water, 1 1/2 Tbsp. sugar, and 2 Tbsp. fish sauce in a small bowl. Stir to combine.
- Mince 8 cloves garlic.
Heat pan to medium high and add 1 Tbsp. cooking oil.
- Saute garlic until fragrant - about 2 minutes.
- Add shrimp to pan and add a pinch of salt and pepper.
- Cook shrimp until opaque - about 2 minutes on each side.
Cook noodles according to package instructions. Drain and set aside.
- Place noodles in bowl and top with spinach, cilantro, carrots, and avocado.
- Pour a few tablespoons of dressing over noodles and vegetables.
- Top with cooked shrimp.
For a less spicy dressing, use less Sambal Oelek or add more sugar to the dressing to balance the spice level to your liking.