I live on a small island approximately 12 miles off the coast of Maine. You can imagine that because of my location, I often don’t have access to every ingredient a recipe calls for; therefore, I often look to recipes for inspiration and ratios and create my own with the ingredients I have on hand.
Several years ago, I found a recipe for Vietnamese Goi Bo (beef, mushroom and glass noodle salad) in a magazine and still make it from time to time, always a little different depending on the ingredients I have. One of the reasons I make it over and over is the heavy amounts of fresh herbs, lime and other Asian-influence ingredients. Since I don’t have access to a lot of fresh herbs every day, I use herbal pastes regularly. (My favorite are the Gourmet Garden pastes, but there are several available.)
My friend called a few days ago and asked if I would like to come over for sushi dinner and asked if I would bring a salad. I never pass up sushi, so I immediately accepted the invite, and then I went to my pantry, refrigerator and freezer to figure out what I could make to go with the dinner. I had recently been craving the Vietnamese Goi Bo and had picked up a bunch of fresh mint for the dressing, but wasn’t sure if I had all of the other ingredients. Using the full recipe as the inspiration, I left out the beef and mushrooms and added in local kelp that I had in my freezer, figuring these flavors would make a nice complement to the sushi.
Vietnamese seaweed salad recipe
For the dressing:
- 1/4 cup grated coconut sugar (The original recipe called for palm sugar.)
- 1/4 cup lime juice (Lime juice in a bottle will work, but fresh is best.)
- 2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce, optional
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce (I used Bragg’s Liquid Aminos.)
- 1 clove garlic (I used 1 tablespoon chunky garlic herbal paste.)
- 1 tablespoon chili oil (I used 1 tablespoon chili paste.)
- 1 tablespoon ginger paste (This was not a part of the original recipe, but I thought it would be a nice complement to the pickled ginger served with the sushi.)
- 1 tablespoon sliced lemongrass (I used 1 tablespoon lemongrass paste.)
- 1 small handful cilantro leaves (I subbed 1 tablespoon basil paste, but you can use both if you have them.)
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil (The original recipe called for olive oil.)
- Blend all ingredients in a blender until well incorporated.
For the salad:
- 1 (12-ounce) package salad cut Ocean Approved kelp (The original recipe called for 1/2 pound sirloin steak and 1/4 cup dried wood ear mushrooms.)
- 1 (4-ounce) package rice noodles, soaked in warm water until tender, about 10 minutes (The original recipe called for bean thread noodles, but either works.)
- 1 (4-inch) cucumber, diced
- 2 small carrots, shredded (Not a part of the original recipe, but I wanted the color.)
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon scallion, chopped (The original recipe called for red onion sliced.)
- One small handful each, roughly chopped: fresh mint, cilantro, basil (substitute 1 tablespoon of each Gourmet Gardens paste), Kaffir lime leaves (substitute lemon zest)
- Place the kelp in a medium glass or stainless steel bowl. Use your fingers to pull the kelp apart so that it isn’t clumped.
- Roughly chop the rice noodles so they are bite size. Use your hands to integrate the kelp and noodles.
- Add cucumber, carrot, scallion and sesame seeds. Toss together.
- Pour dressing over the salad and work through. Make at least a couple hours ahead of time for the flavors to marry.
- Before serving, taste and adjust the seasonings. Add more soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, chili paste or other herbs to taste.
How to turn this side dish into a main dish:
- Serve with steak: Marinate tri-tip steaks in the dressing for at least 1 hour, grill to medium-rare and thinly slice on top of the salad.
- Serve with grilled shrimp.
- Serve with chicken tenders: Poach the chicken tenders in 1/2 inch of dressing for 6–8 minutes or until cooked through. Chop and serve on top of salad.
- Serve with tofu: Dry the tofu out completely. I like to leave mine out most of the day near a heat source to dehydrate the tofu as much as possible. Press the water out using clean towels or paper towels. In a dry pan, cook 1/2-inch thick x 1.5-inch wide slabs until browned. Toss in the dressing before serving.
After making all of these substitutions and additions, the dish no longer resembles the original, but the essence and inspiration are clearly there. The fresh, bright flavors that are associated with Vietnamese foods as well as the variety of texture are present.
Vietnamese food is known for appealing to all the senses. With the bright colors, varied textures, zesty aromas, delightful crunch and fresh flavors, this dish hits the mark. Try making the original recipe, my creation or create your own inspired dish.