Sometimes I just do not feel like making dinner. Like on a day when I oversleep, and then I'm "that mom" at toddler sports class, with all three boys crying for no reason. And then a certain 2 year-old pushes down his brother and almost breaks his nose. And then everyone refuses to nap. And it's raining. Again. You know, hypothetically, you may not want to make dinner after a day like that.
Or maybe you do. Because after lunch, the sun comes out, and it's a glorious day outside. And your sweet husband brings home your favorite wine. Then that sweet husband takes all the kids outside to play; you have a quiet house, a glass of wine, and all the time in the world to unwind and relax as you make said dinner. Those are hypothetically the kinds of things that might turn your day around.
And then when that dinner ends up being one of the best things you've made all year? Day = made.
This was pretty far outside my comfort zone, which was another reason that I was so tempted to order take-out on this hypothetical day. And it does require quite a bit of chopping and mixing, so I understand that can be a deterrent (I'm really selling this salad, aren't I?).
However, maybe I'm crazy, but when I'm not rushed to put dinner on the table or trying to multitask while I cook, I find chopping, slicing, and mixing to be quite therapeutic. Crank up my favorite pandora station pour myself a glass of wine, and I find my happy place.
And then I found my happy place again when we sat down to eat. This salad. Oh my, it's good. Chewy rice noodles, crisp veggies, crunchy peanuts, bright and fresh herbs, perfectly cooked pork tenderloin, and a sweet-salty-spicy dressing. It's good stuff. Like I said, this was a bit outside my comfort zone, but when all was said and done, I'm so glad I took the chance on it.
I wasn't so sure how this would be received by the kids, but they all really loved it - especially the pork. I kept it simple and just sliced up some mango and pineapple to serve on the side, and it was a really wonderful and light meal. Definitely the kind of meal to turn your day around. Hypothetically.
Vietnamese-Style Pork and Rice Noodle Salad
adapted from America's Test Kitchen's Pasta Revolution
- 3 Tbs fish sauce
- 3 Tbs brown sugar
- 1 Tbs + 1 tsp vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 lbs pork tenderloin, trimmed and sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch medallions
- 2/3 cup fish sauce
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 1/3 cup lime juice (about 3-4 limes)
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 Thai, serrano, or jalapeño chiles, ribs and seeds removed, finely minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 medium carrots, peeled and shredded on the large holes of a cheese grater
- 1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, halved crosswise, and thinly sliced into half moons
- 1/3 cup chopped unsalted roasted peanuts
- 1 Thai, serrano, or jalapeño chile, ribs and seeds removed, thinly sliced
- 6 oz dried rice noodles (rice vermicelli), broken into 6-inch pieces
- 4-5 cups romaine lettuce, chopped
- 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped
For the pork: Combine the fish sauce, brown sugar, and oil together in a gallon-sized freezer bag, and agitate to dissolve the sugar. Add the pork, shake to combine, refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or up to 24 hours.
For the dressing: Combine all the ingredients in a mason jar or small bowl, then shake or whisk to combine. Set aside.
For the salad: In a small bowl, toss the carrots, cucumbers, peanuts, and chile together with 1/4 cup of the dressing. Set aside and allow to marinate while you prepare the rest of the salad.
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Remove from heat, add the noodles, and stirring occasionally, let them sit about 10 minutes. Drain the noodles and transfer to a large bowl. Layer the carrot-cucumber mixture, lettuce, basil, cilantro, and mint on top of the noodles, but do not toss. Set aside.
Meanwhile, adjust the oven rack 6 inches from the broiler and heat the broiler. Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray. Arrange the slices of pork in a single layer on the baking sheet.
Broil until the pork is golden on both sides with crispy, browned edges, about 10 minutes, flipping halfway through.
Pour half the dressing over the noodle-veggie mixture and toss to combine. Divide among serving bowls and top each portion with a few pieces of the pork. Drizzle the remaining dressing over the individual servings and serve immediately.