Kickoff to Summer Food: Vietnamese Noodle Bowls
It’s the hottest day of the year so far–nearly thirty degrees–and this pregnant mama has been sweltering all week. The thought of coming home after work to turn on a stove or oven made me sweat just thinking about it. At the same time, this exact same pregnant mama knows that just a salad for dinner absolutely won’t cut it nowadays–if I don’t have a dinner with some serious protein and carbs involved, you’ll most definitely find me doing the two a.m. peanut butter toast run!
One of my favorite casual dinners out is going to any number of local Vietnamese places to take in their pho or vermicelli noodle bowls (bún), which are light and refreshing like a salad but still as hearty as any bowl of noodles should be. Since I’m always trying to penny pinch as well as to enjoy more time at home at the end of the day, I thought I would try to tackle vermicelli noodle bowls at home. Not only were they easy, but they were ridiculously cheap to make, particularly if you already have a few Asian condiments* kicking around in your fridge or pantry. For me, all the fresh produce was able to come from the produce drawers in my fridge, which is terrific seeing as some of it would have otherwise been on its way to the garbage in the next few days. I absolutely hate wasting food or money, so anything that clears out the drawers once in a while is fine by me!
So, all that being said, if you’ve got some old produce kicking around as well, this meal will cost you well under $10 for at least 4-5 portions: around $2 for the massive pack of dried rice vermicelli noodles, and a few dollars for the 3-4 chicken breasts you’ll grill up. Overall, that’s less than $2 per person. Sweet! Even though eating out at my local Vietnamese place is cheap ($20 or less), this is still cheaper. Plus, like all the meals I make at home for dinnertime, it then does double duty as “free” lunch for tomorrow at work, with no lunch-making duties last minute before my morning commute. Come on–that’s priceless in and of itself! ;)
|* If you don’t have many Asian condiments on hand, check the “Asian Foods” aisle of your local grocery store, market, or even Walmart. The ingredients I’ve listed are all extremely common and inexpensive. You’ll find that by having them on hand, you can use them all the time in salad dressings, stir frys, and dips. Most of them–like a good old bottle of fish sauce–will also last you months (if not years) in the refrigerator, so the $2/bottle goes along way!|
Chicken Vermicelli Noodle Bowls (serves 4-5)
The bare necessities:
1 package dried vermicelli rice noodles
3-4 chicken breasts
a few generous splashes of soy sauce
3 tbsp lime juice (bottled is fine)
For the garnish:
Arrange a platter with whatever veggies and herbs you like most (or whatever’s in the fridge drawer). For example:
- fresh basil leaves
- carrot ribbons (use a vegetable peeler to create this effect)
- sliced/julienned cucumber
- bean sprouts
- sliced/ribboned green onions
- shredded iceberg lettuce
- chopped peanuts
For the sauce:
- juice of 3 fresh limes
- 1 inch portion of fresh ginger, peeled and grated finely
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and grated finely
- 1 sliced green onion
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp rice vinegar
- 1/4 tsp sesame oil
- 1/4 tsp fish sauce
- 1/2 tsp sambal oelek (or sriracha or other hot sauce)
- 1 cup water
Prep & Assembly:
- Soak the vermicelli noodles in a large mixing bowl of cold tap water for at least 15 minutes. This will give them a preliminary “softening up” and you’ll have the benefit of having them “cooked” in only 1 minute when the other ingredients are ready.
- In a freezer bag or marinading dish, toss your chicken breasts with the 3 tbsp of lime juice (bottled is fine here) and a generous splashing of soy sauce. Allow to sit for at least 10 minutes in the mixture before grilling.
- While your noodles and chicken sit, prepare your garnish by slicing/ribboning/julienning whatever fresh herbs and veggies you prefer most. Chop some cocktail peanuts for added crunch.
- Prepare the sauce by mixing all the above ingredients (or modify to your own tastes) in a small dish. The sauce’s flavour will intensify as you leave it to sit, so it’s not bad to prepare it slighly in advance if you’d like to maximize the flavour!
- On a BBQ (or in the oven), grill your chicken breasts until fully cooked.
- Once cooked, remove your chicken breasts to a cutting board to rest for several minutes.
- Drain cold water out of noodles and prepare 2L of boiling water in your kettle. Once boiled, pour it over the rice noodles and stir so they are fully immersed and separated. They will cook to perfectly tender in 1-2 minutes. Keep your eye on them, drain once soft, and rinse with cold tap water to prevent clumping.
- Fill your serving bowls 3/4 full of vermicelli noodles. Slice grilled chicken and place on top of the noodles. Allow each person to garnish their bowl with whatever toppings and however much sauce they’d like.