I love Vietnamese food because of its fresh flavors, textures and colors. There is a two-block stretch of Larkin Street between Eddy and O’Farrell called “Little Saigon”. Anything you need to make authentic Vietnamese food can be found there. This salad is something I crave a few times a month – I never get tired of eating it. And it’s healthy which is always nice.
Active Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 4 hours or overnight
2 tablespoons fresh chili paste (Sambal Oelek)
¼ cup fish sauce (Nuoc Mam)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons ginger, grated or minced
3 large lemongrass stalks
1 tablespoon garlic, minced or grated
1 tablespoon light brown sugar, packed
1½ teaspoons lime zest
½ teaspoon sesame oil
¼ cup peanut oil
1 to 1¼ lb flank steak
½ teaspoon lime zest
2 tablespoons lime juice
¼ cup shallot, diced
2 teaspoons light brown sugar, packed
¼ cup rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon ginger, grated or minced
4 green and red Thai chilies, thinly sliced into rounds
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 12-oz package tapioca sheets with black sesame seeds (Bánh Tráng Mè)
½ lb vermicelli noodles
1 cup radishes, thinly sliced into rounds on a mandoline
1 cup English cucumber, thinly sliced into rounds on a mandoline
1 cup red onion, thinly sliced on a mandoline
½ cup mint leaves
½ cup Thai or opal basil leaves
½ cup Vietnamese cilantro leaves
½ cup daikon radish sprouts
2 to 4 green and red Thai chilies, thinly sliced into rounds
Trim the bottom end and top 1/3 off each lemongrass stalk and remove the tough outer leaves. Using the flat side of a meat tenderizer pound the lemongrass until very flat and splintered. Finely chop and add to a bowl with the remaining marinade ingredients, whisking until sugar has dissolved. Pour the marinade into a large resealable plastic bag and add the steak. Press any extra air out of the bag and seal. Marinate the steak for 3 to 4 hours in the refrigerator flipping the bag half way through, or marinate overnight. Let the steak rest at room temperature in the marinade for 30 minutes before grilling. Remove steak from the bag and discard the marinade.
Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl until sugar dissolves. Let rest at room temperature until you’re ready to use it or refrigerate in an airtight container overnight.
Salad dressing can be made a few days in advance and kept in an airtight container, chilled. It will last for up to 2 weeks refrigerated.
Fill a small, heavy pot 1/3 full with canola oil and heat to 325° F with a deep-frying thermometer. Place a wire rack over a baking sheet next to the hot oil. Break a few of the tapioca sheets into pieces the size of a tortilla chip and fry in batches for 15 to 30 seconds – pieces will puff right away and cook very quickly. Transfer the crisps to the wire rack and repeat.
Bring 6 cups of salted water to a boil. Put the vermicelli in a large bowl and pour the hot water over the noodles. Make sure the noodles are covered with water and add more if necessary. Stir the noodles with chopsticks to break the bundle apart and let them rest until soft and pliable, 10 to15 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water and then return to the bowl. Toss with salad dressing and then add the radishes, cucumber and red onion.
Heat a grill or grill pan over medium-high heat and brush with peanut oil. Grill the steak for 3 to 5 minutes on each side for medium-rare. Let steak rest, covered with foil on a cutting board for 5 minutes before slicing thinly against the grain.
Divide the noodles between four bowls. Top with mint, basil and cilantro leaves and steak slices. Sprinkle a few extra chilies over the top and add a small handful of daikon sprouts. Serve with tapioca crisps on the side.