Soft, silky rice noodles are a textural delight, with a lively springiness that has them practically bouncing in your mouth, yet yielding completely when you bite down. Neutral by nature, they happily absorb the flavors of all manner of vegetables, herbs and seasonings, making them a versatile foundation for savory salads.
Here, the noodles are tossed with an equal amount of vegetables to keep things light and bright. Tomatoes add juiciness. Cucumbers, romaine lettuce and bean sprouts add crunch. Several cups of herbs — basil, mint and cilantro — add a zippy complexity.
But what really gives this salad its oomph is its dressing, a mix of brawny ground pork sauteed with lime and orange juices, fish sauce and plenty of ginger and garlic.
It may seem like a lot of ingredients — and, well, it is a lot of ingredients — but each one brings something important to the mix, building the dish’s character and making every bite just a little different from the last.
I like to serve my rice noodles either warm or at room temperature, but not cold. Once you put them in the fridge, they seize up and clump together into a nearly solid, crunchy blob.
Instead, serve this salad just after you’ve tossed it together, when the greens are still crisp and the noodles satiny and elastic. You can also make it a few hours in advance and leave it at room temperature. But if it must go in the fridge (in the unlikely event there’s any left over), bring it to room temperature before devouring. If your kitchen is warm, this will happen relatively quickly, in under an hour.
Or, if you’re absolutely starving, zap the salad in the microwave, tossing every 20 seconds. A little wilted lettuce and floppy cucumber is a small price to pay for the pleasures of supple rice noodles coated in glistening, oily-in-a-good-way bits of pork.
This said, if you’d rather not have the meat, just leave it out and add a couple of extra tablespoons of oil to the pan with the ginger and garlic. The oil gives the sauce the needed richness and body, rounding out the flavors. And with all the tangy, well-seasoned noodles at the heart of the plate, this salad won’t lack for a thing.
TANGY PORK NOODLE SALAD WITH LIME AND LOTS OF HERBS
By Melissa Clark
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
- 2-1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus more to taste
- 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce, plus more as needed
- 1 tablespoon honey
- Fine sea salt
- 4 tablespoons grapeseed or safflower oil, divided
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced shallot (1 large)
- 6 ounces pad Thai or other flat rice noodles
- 2 garlic cloves, finely grated or mashed to a paste
- 1 (2-inch) piece ginger, peeled and grated (about 2 teaspoons)
- 1 Thai or serrano chili, thinly sliced and seeded if you like
- 1 pound ground pork (or turkey)
- 1 cup thinly sliced cucumbers
- 2 scallions, white and green parts, sliced
- 1-1/4 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 cup mung or other bean sprouts (or lettuce)
- 1 packed cup mint leaves
- 1 packed cup cilantro or basil sprigs, or a combination
- 2 cups shredded romaine or other crisp lettuce
- Red-pepper flakes, for serving
- Lime wedges, for serving
In a small bowl, whisk together lime zest and juice, orange juice, fish sauce, honey and a small pinch of salt. Pour half the mixture into a large bowl and whisk in 3 tablespoons grapeseed oil and the shallots. Set both mixtures aside.
Cook noodles in salted water according to package directions. Rinse under running water to remove any excess starch, then drain well and add to bowl with shallots, tossing well. Set aside while preparing remaining ingredients.
Heat remaining 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add garlic, ginger and chili, and cook until lightly golden and aromatic, about 1 minute. Add pork and stir, breaking up pieces with a wooden spoon. Cook without stirring too often, until browned, about 8 minutes. Pour in lime juice mixture from small bowl. Simmer gently until most of the liquid is evaporated, stirring to coat pork in glaze, another minute. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.
Add pork, cucumbers, scallions, cherry tomatoes, bean sprouts and herbs to the noodles and toss well to combine. Taste and add more fish sauce, lime juice or both. Just before serving, toss in lettuce, and serve sprinkled with red-pepper flakes with lime wedges on the side. Serves 4.
Nutritional information unavailable.