Last summer was my first time eating bún - a refreshing Vietnamese salad of cold noodles, charred meat and crunchy veggies. It was during a week-long trip to San Diego that I took with Grant to make preparations for our cross-country move. This kind of trip, I learned, is exhausting. We spent hour upon hour driving around the city, touring apartments, submitting applications, finding out that the last unit was snatched up by the nice young couple ahead of us, and starting all over again. Day in, day out. I don’t mean to complain – I’m grateful we had the opportunity to move, and all hurdles are just the expected challenges of real life. But in the thick of it, we were in serious need to escape and recharge – physically and mentally.
We ducked into a casual neighborhood pho joint. Because we were in the midst of an August heat wave, a steaming bowl of pho didn’t seem like the most appealing option, but I knew I could count on Vietnamese cuisine to offer me something with fresh vegetables. When I opened the menu to a photo of a towering bún, chilled noodles loaded with shredded salad and fresh herbs, that was all I needed to see. I couldn’t have imagined any food more perfect for that moment. We both ordered the same thing – unusual for us – and ate our noodles and drank ice water like it was our job. Since then, I’ve been eager to recreate the dish in my kitchen.
The thing that finally made me try it was a chance encounter in the refrigerated section at Trader Joe’s. Next to their other fresh pastas, they also offer packs of fresh rice noodles. To try a new ingredient, and finally check this project off my “to cook” list without even a special trip to the Asian market? I couldn’t resist. Now, I’m not saying these rice noodles are health food – they’re pretty much refined, nutrient-depleted starch – but a few carbs won’t kill us, and if they’re the vehicle for all this freshness, it’s not the worst thing we can call dinner.
I made a super-simple, pantry-assisted marinade (soy + peanut sauce) for chicken breasts to top my bowl, but any number of proteins would work here: pork, beef, tofu, shrimp… yeah. I’m starting to see more of these in my future. This is a flexible recipe, so don’t be afraid to adapt. The crunchiest, inner leaves of romaine are my top choice for healthy crunch. Shredded carrots are lightly pickled to add an extra layer of sweet/sour flavor. And on top of everything else, slivered green onions and a generous handful of your favorite fresh herbs. Cooking this made me wish there was mint in my herb garden… it would be so perfect. I used cilantro instead, but use whatever sounds good to you.
My dressing is an inauthentic nuoc cham. I had to omit the traditional fish sauce, which is one of the few ingredients that will elicit a full-on mutiny from the boyfriend contingent of my dinner table. I subbed in soy sauce for a little salty umami, and it got the job done. I would have liked to add some finely minced garlic and chili pepper, but didn’t have any on hand. If you do, go for it! If not, it will still be good!
Escape to your kitchen, try something new, refresh yourself!