When my daughter, Adriana, is looking for something to make for dinner, she never reaches for one of my cookbooks. Almost always, the first books she consults are those by Nancie McDermott.
McDermott is the author of numerous cookbooks, including a series of Asian ones that are filled with recipes that are simple and accessible, and yet authentic: “Quick and Easy Thai,” “Quick and Easy Vietnamese,” “Quick and Easy Chinese.” They are a great introduction for kids who want to learn about, and cook, Asian food — as long as they are old enough to use sharp knives to chop.
When Adriana was younger, chopping was my job. Now she does it, and she’s more organized than I am. She puts all of her prepped ingredients in small “mise” bowls so they’re ready to go when it’s time to assemble and cook the dish. Here’s Adriana to tell you more:
I love cooking from Nancie McDermott’s cookbooks because the recipes are a challenge and they always come out delicious. One night I chose to make Big Cool Noodle Bowl from “Quick and Easy Vietnamese.” It reminded me of a noodle dish that my mom makes sometimes with peanuts and other ingredients, but it turned out to be nothing like it at all.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. I loved it!
Big Cool Noodle Bowl is a great recipe for summer, because it is refreshing and fun to make. It doesn’t have many ingredients, but it does take some chopping and prep work, so you will need to set aside some time for this. Once you’re finished preparing all of the ingredients you can put the dish together.
This recipe leaves a lot of room for creativity. You can put it together any way you want, and even add other things to it to make the dish more appealing to you. In this version I used roast chicken, but you could use beef or pork or even tofu if you want.
The first time I made this recipe it was not what I had in mind, but it ended up being one of the best mistakes I’ve made in cooking.
This refreshing one-dish meal is a great antidote to a sticky summer night. It takes well to variation: Substitute grilled shrimp, pork, or beef for the chicken, if you like. We sometimes add shredded Napa cabbage or thinly sliced white mushrooms.
Serve with a dry riesling from California or Germany.
MAKE AHEAD: The sauce can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.
Adapted from “Quick and Easy Vietnamese: 75 Everyday Recipes,” by Nancie McDermott (Chronicle, 2005).
For the noodles
8 ounces thin dried rice noodles or angel-hair pasta
For the sauce (nuoc cham)
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon chili-garlic sauce or finely chopped hot red chili peppers, or 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
6 tablespoons fish sauce
6 tablespoons water
Freshly squeezed juice from 1 or 2 limes (1/4 cup)
For the noodles
2 cups shredded lettuce or spring salad mix
3 cups shredded roast chicken
2 cups peeled and sliced cucumber
1 cup small sprigs mint and cilantro, combined
2 cups mung bean sprouts (optional)
1 cup shredded carrots
1/3 cup scallions, white and light-green parts, cut crosswise into thin slices
3/4 cup chopped roasted, salted peanuts
For the noodles: Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Drop in the noodles, then remove the pot from the heat and let stand for 10 minutes; use tongs or a slotted spoon and a fork to separate the noodles in the water so they cook evenly. When the noodles are tender, drain, rinse in cold water, then drain again. You’ll have about 6 cups of cooked noodles. Let stand while you prepare the remaining ingredients.
While the noodles are cooling, make the sauce: Combine the garlic, sugar and chili-garlic sauce in the bowl of a mortar and pestle; mash to a paste. Scrape the paste into a medium bowl, then stir in the fish sauce, water and lime juice, so the sugar dissolves. Use right away, or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week.
To assemble: Set out four big Asian-style noodle bowls or pasta plates or soup bowls. Divide the ingredients evenly among the bowls: lettuce first, topped with 1 1/2 cups of noodles for each portion. Top the noodles with chicken on one side, and the cucumber, fresh herbs and any optional ingredients you’re using on the other side.
Sprinkle the scallions and peanuts over the chicken. Serve the remaining sauce at the table, or reserve for another use.
Serve immediately, inviting everyone to toss everything together as they begin to eat.