Zing on a plate

In Recipes on December 14, 2010 at 2:13 am

I was browsing in a local bookshop the other day when I saw a copy of Marguerite Duras’ The Lover on the shelves.  I remembered reading this book many years ago, loving Duras’ beautiful spare style and the mysterious ‘Indochine’ in which the book is set.  At the time I didn’t know much about the former French colonies in the region, among them Vietnam.  I was a child when the Vietnam war ended so all I knew of the country was that there had been a horrific war and that mass protests around the world had helped to end it.  In the 1980s we had a lot of migrants fleeing from war torn Vietnam and settling in Australia, in time, their cuisine followed. Vietnamese restaurants sprang up in the Melbourne suburbs of Footscray, Abbottsford and Springvale along with fantastic Vietnamese grocery stores where you could obtain all the weird and wonderful ingredients you needed to make your own Vietnamese food at home.  In winter I love to make pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup that is all about the complexity of the broth.  In summer I make my own version of a Vietnamese chicken or beef salad that is dressed with the traditional hot, salty, sweet, sour dressing.

There's a bit of chopping to be done

Vietnamese chicken or beef salad


2 free range chicken breasts (poached gently in simmering water for 20-25 mins. and cooled in their own stock, then thinly sliced across the grain)


2 beef steaks (porterhouse or rump, seasoned and seared or grilled to taste, then thinly sliced across the grain)

Mixed salad leaves

1 continental cucumber (sliced into batons)

Green beans (blanched for 5 mins. in boiling water, then cooled in iced water to stop the cooking process and retain their vibrant green colour)

1 carrot (finely julienned)

250 g bean shoots

Unsalted peanuts

Fresh mint and coriander

Fried shallots (available at your Asian grocer)


Juice of 1-2 limes

1 tbs fish sauce

1 tbs grated palm sugar (or brown sugar if that’s all you have)

1 finely chopped birds eye chilli

Mix all of these together, tasting to make sure you have the balance right, if too strong you can add a little water.


For each serving pile salad leaves on a plate followed by a handful of cucumber batons, a handful of bean shoots, a handful of  carrot and a handful of green beans.  Mix through some torn mint and coriander.  Place some sliced meat on the salad, scatter peanuts and fried shallots on top, along with some more torn mint and coriander to garnish.  Pour over a generous amount of the dressing.  Serves 4.

This one's made with beef but it still has the 'zing'


Other things that can be added are blanched vermicelli noodles, finely julienned green mango or finely julienned red capsicum.  If you don’t have enough dressing you can make up some more, just keep in mind the hot, salty, sweet, sour balance.

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