My father is originally from Vietnam, and we grew up eating some of the best cuisine in the world (in my opinion). His family escaped in 1979 on one of the last boats leaving Saigon and spent some time in a refugee camp in Indonesia for a spell. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for them, and it amazes me on a regular basis just how blessed I am to be a first generation American.
This meal is one I grew up on; heck, I probably teethed on them too. It has quickly become a family favorite with my husband and inlaws, as well as our favorite meal to have when we host friends. I believe I have posted this once before, but it was seriously lacking in pictures and the actual recipe was a bit confusing.
It is so fresh, and yet oh so satisfying (even for meat-hungry men). It ends up being about 75% vegetables and just has that exotic and adventuresome flavoring that hometown American food doesn’t always have. Also, this recipe is “traditional” in the sense that it is the way my family made it growing up, not necessarily the way that every Vietnamese person would make it. There are many different regions in Vietnam which do each dish differently, so you may find different varieties based on where in Vietnam the cook is from.
I think food should be beautiful, a visual experience as well as one of taste, and nothing can beat the vibrant colors of fresh vegetables.
(Most of the ingredients that are not in a normal grocery store can be found very affordable at any asian/global market. Attached are links to pictures of my recommended brands)
Serves approx: 4-6
– 1 package Rice paper skins (like these here)
– 1 head Red leaf lettuce
– 1-2 lbs Beef
– 1 White onion
– 1 lb Shrimp, skinned and de-veined (optional)
– Fish filets (optional)
– 4 Carrots
– 1 package Fresh basil
– 3 handfuls of Bean sprouts
– 4 Roma tomatoes
– 1 bunch Green onions
– 1 bunch Cilantro
– 1 1/2 cups Roasted peanuts (preferably dry, no salt or other flavorings)
– 1 bottle of beer, for simmering the beef (optional)
– 1/3 cup Fish sauce
– 1/3 cup Rice vinegar
– Chili paste (1 tsp/to taste) (photo)
– 1/3 cup Sugar
– Several cloves of fresh chopped garlic
– Very warm water
(If you want to make it like my family does, use 1 cup fish sauce, 1 cup sugar, and 1/2 cup vinegar instead of the quantities above. Yeah, pretty intense.)
Mix everything for the dipping sauce together in a glass pint jar, then fill the rest of the jar with warm water to dilute and dissolve the sugar. Spoon about 1/2 a cup into individual little bowls for dipping. Refrigerate after use.
Slice the beef into approximately 1-inch X 3-inch slices, as thin as possible. Set aside.
Wash, dry, and pull apart the leaf lettuce from the core. Leave as leafs, and place on a corner of a big serving tray.
Rinse the basil, bean sprouts, green onions, cilantro, and arrange all on the serving platter. Grate the carrots into a bowl.
Slice the tomatoes into 1/4-inch wedges.
Crush the peanuts; a mortar and pestle works, as does a couple pulses in a blender.
There are several ways to cook the meat; you can pan fry, bbq, bake, whatever suits you. But we typically cooked it right on the table, as you eat, as explained below:
1. Fill an electric skillet halfway full of water. Add 3/4 of the bottle of beer, sliced up onions, a bit of salt.
2. Once boiling, reduce heat to a simmer and add meat (beef, shrimp, fish etc) as desired. You can also use a rice cooker or just a pan on the stove if you don’t have a skillet. Remove when beef is no longer pink.
Roll your sleeves up and roll out the paper towels.
1. Submerge one rice paper skin in a big bowl of lukewarm water till both sides are wet. Let the excess water drip off, then put on a large flat plate (or directly on the table top).
2. Begin with a piece of lettuce, say 3×4 in. Next layer two-three pieces of meat, then pile any or all of the rest of the vegetables in a long-ish rectangle way. I usually end with the crushed peanuts scattered on top.
3. Roll up like a burrito, folding in the edges halfway to the end. The skin will soften as the water is absorbed, and it should stick to itself. Be careful not to stretch it too much, or it will tear.
Once you have a nice roll, dip it in the sauce and take a bite. If the sauce ends up running all the way down to your elbow, you know you’re doing it right. It requires skill to dip a roll without letting all the insides end up in your bowl, but I’ll let you discover your own special trick.