I once did a brilliant cooking class with Vietnamese food extraordinaire Uyen Luu, who showed me that even the most elaborate-seeming dishes can be very easy to make if you follow one basic principal: sweet, sour and salt. Balance these three elements, usually with simple ingredients such as fish sauce, vinegar and sugar, and it doesn’t take much to turn a bit of meat and some noodles into something mega.
This dish is based on something I once had in Mien Tay on Kingsland Road, and is essentially just a load of lemongrass and chilli fried up with some beef mince (a banging combo), thrown on top of some noodles with fresh herbs and vegetables and then dressed in the aforementioned sweet/sour/salt game-changer. Don’t be put off by the long ingredients list – it was very quick and easy to make, and was a proper treat on a gloomy Monday night.
Ingredients (serves 4)
400g of lean beef mince
2 sticks of lemongrass
1 inch of ginger
1 inch of galangal (could probs do without but I was feeling wild)
5-6 dried bird’s eye chilis or a tablespoon of dried chili flakes
2 garlic cloves
A splash of rice wine
A splash of dark soy sauce
3 tablespoons of fish sauce
3 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar (white wine or cider vinegar would also be good)
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 tablespoon of clear honey
1 red chili finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, crushed
One sheet of fine rice noodles (or whatever the packet you have seems to suggest is good for 4)
A handful of fresh coriander (cilantro)
A handful of fresh mint
A big handfull of sugarsnap (snow) peas
Two handfulls of beans spouts
4-6 spring onions (scallions)
1 red chili
Blend the lemongrass, garlic, dried chilis, ginger and galangal to a crumb-like consistency. Set aside.
Mix all the dressing ingredients. Set aside.
Chop the spring onions, herbs and fresh chilis and set aside.
Finely chop the sugarsnap peas and place in a bowl. Pour over boiling water and leave for two mins. Drain. Set aside.
Place the rice noodles in a bowl and pour over boiling water.
Heat a non-stick frying pan to smoking and put in the beef mince. Fry for a couple of minutes until starting to brown and add the lemongrass mixture. Fry for 8-10 mins on a high heat until well browned and starting to crisp, stirring regularly. Season with salt and pepper and splash in the rice wine and soy sauce after 5 mins or so.
Drain the noodles after 5-10 mins depending on what packet suggests and divide between four bowls.
Top the noodles with the beef mixture, followed by the herbs, bean sprouts, sugarsnaps, spring onions and chili.
Spoon over dressing and serve.
Mix with chopsticks, and eat.