I used to live beside a great little pho restaurant. Even though their main attraction was the perfectly executed pho, my heart and taste buds were always more captivated by the noodle bowls. Fresh crunchy lettuce, a layer of soft noodles, scattered with crispy tofu. A delicious and colorful rainbow of flavors and textures finished with a sweet and savory dressing and a sprinkle of peanuts. My idea of a perfect lunch, light, and refreshing. The type of meal that lets you feel good about yourself.
Since moving across town, there hasn't yet been much opportunity to check out the area. I still find myself going back to the old favorites when I do have a spare moment to indulge. With time comes the discovery of new hidden gems, nooks, and crannies. I will just have to challenge myself to be patient. I'm sure that my new favorite pho restaurant is waiting around the corner, ready to be explored. But, in the mean time, I have decided to give-in to my craving for sweet sauce drenched over crispy lettuce, topped with savory tofu, and uber healthy crispy bits of vegetables.
I like to fry my tofu in a generous serving of oil. The richness from the oil absorbed into the tofu, when served with greens, balances out the crisp freshness. The dressing is a mixture of two of my favorite sauces, soy and sweet chili. I added some cilantro for some garnish. Bean sprouts were surprisingly a bit hard to come by. I checked a few stores before I had found a bag of almost expired sprouts. I should have placed them back on the shelf and walked away, but some things are a must. Red pepper, cucumber, and carrots, a staple for most. A quick steam, and the rice noodles have cooked to perfection, ready to be placed upon the bright beautiful bed of salad. After chopping, separating the vegetables into small bowls, you and your guests can pick and choose your own ingredients, dressing the salad as you please. Kids especially love this game.
VIETNAMESE NOODLE BOWL
makes 4 large salad bowls
notes: I prefer to freeze the tofu before frying. Freezing changes the texture slightly and allows better absorption of flavors. Thaw the tofu the morning before by placing into a warm water bath.
1 package of firm or extra-firm tofu
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 head romain lettuce, chopped
1 cup bean sprouts
1 carrot, julienned
1/2 english cucumber, julienned
1 red pepper, julienned
1 package of rice noodles
chopped peanuts for garnish
1 small bunch cilantro for garnish
1 lime, quartered
1/2 cup warm water
1 garlic clove
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp Thai sweet chili sauce
Remove the tofu from its package. Press it between your hands to remove any excess water. Chop it into 1x1 inch pieces. Heat a frying pan with 1/4 cup of canola oil on medium heat. When the oil is hot, place the tofu into the pan and season with soy sauce. Mix the tofu with a spatula allowing even distribution of the soy sauce. If all the pieces have not been covered with sauce, add more until they are all dressed. Fry the tofu until golden brown and crispy on the outside.
While the tofu is frying, chop all of the vegetables. Place them into small serving bowls and set to the side.
In a food processor, add the sauce ingredients. Pulse until the garlic has been minced. Adding the ingredients to the processor, will allow stronger flavors from the garlic to be absorbed.
Once the tofu has fried, place it onto a paper towel to soak up the excess oils.
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Once it has boiled, remove it from the stove and add the rice noodles. Cover the pot and allow them to soak for a couple of minutes. Keep an eye on the noodles. You do not want them to become over hydrated and start to break down into mush. It should only take a few minutes in the water for them to become soft.
Prepare 4 medium salad bowl, by placing chopped lettuce in the bottom. Place a small handful of noodles on top. Add the tofu and the rest of the vegetables. Pour a generous serving of dressing on top, and garnish with cilantro, lime, and chopped peanuts.