2 cups washed and shredded romaine, red, or green leaf lettuce
2 cups fresh, crisp bean sprouts
1-1/2 cups peeled, seeded, and julienned cucumber
1/3 to 1/2 cup roughly chopped or small whole mint leaves
1/3 to 1/2 cup roughly chopped or small basil or Thai basil leaves
2 Tbs. chopped roasted peanuts
12 sprigs fresh cilantro
Nuoc cham (Vietnamese Dipping Sauce, see below)
8 oz. dried rice vermicelli
Stir-fried vegetables (I used broccoli, garlic, onion, tofu and carrots) with soy sauce or you could easily use some sort of meat
For the greens and herbs: Divide the lettuce, bean sprouts, cucumber, mint, and basil among four large soup or pasta bowls. If working ahead of time, cover each bowl with damp paper towels and refrigerate.
For the garnishes: Set peanuts aside. Make 1 recipe nuoc cham and refrigerate.
For the noodles: Bring a medium potful of water to a rolling boil. Add the rice vermicelli and, stirring often, cook them until the strands are soft and white, but still resilient, 3 to 5 minutes. Don’t be tempted to undercook them, as they must be fully cooked to absorb the flavors of the dish. Rinse them in a colander under cold water just until they’re cool and the water runs clear. Let the noodles drain in the colander for 30 minutes, and then set them aside for up to 2 hours, unrefrigerated.
For the topping: Stir fry whatever it is you want.
To assemble the salads: Remove the salad bowls from the refrigerator 20 to 30 minutes before serving. The greens and bowl should be cool, not cold. Fluff the noodles with your fingers and divide them among the prepared salad bowls. Put the cooked topping on the noodles and garnish each bowl with the peanuts and cilantro. Pass the nuoc cham at the table; each diner should drizzle about 3 Tbs. over the salad and then toss the salad in the bowl a few times with two forks or chopsticks before eating.
2 to 3 Thai bird chiles (or 1 small jalapeño or serrano chile), cored, seeded, and minced; more or less to taste
1/2 tsp. ground chile paste; more or less to taste
2/3 cup hot water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup fish sauce
2 Tbs. fresh lime juice
2 Tbs. shredded carrots (optional)
In a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic and fresh chiles to a paste. (Or mince them together with a knife.) In a small bowl, combine this garlic and chile mixture with the chile paste, hot water, and sugar. Stir well. Add the fish sauce and lime juice and combine. Float the carrots on top. Let sit for at least 15 minutes before using.