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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Nuoc Cham Vinaigrette

Cooking is my creative outlet. I love to read cookbooks, cooking blogs, and watch cooking shows to learn techniques and find inspiration. The Love Of My Life and I get to talking about some of our favorite foods and ingredients and come up with some really fun recipe ideas when we say "What if …"

We both love the quintessential Vietnamese dipping sauce, Nuoc Cham. In fact, I love it so much that I'm always trying to figure out what else I can do with it besides using it for dipping Vietnamese rice paper rolls.

So I had some shredded green papaya from one of our local Asian markets and wanted to use it as the base for an Asian-style salad to serve alongside Beef "Carpaccio" Imperial Rolls

I was thinking, wouldn't Nuoc Cham make a fabulous salad dressing?

This salad is ridiculously easy to prepare and ridiculously good! Choose any of the following ingredients that you like or have on hand and combine proportions to your taste.

Green papaya, shredded
Carrots, shredded or grated
Jicama, julienned
Cabbage, shredded
Snow peas, julienned
Soy bean or mung bean sprouts
Red bell pepper, julienned

For the dressing, prepare Nuoc Cham. I use the following fabulous recipe from Viet World Kitchen. Adjust to taste. Don't be afraid of the fish sauce. Your sauce/salad dressing won't taste fishy. It's a wonderful umami ingredient that gives a great depth of flavor and enhances the other flavors, similar to using soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce. To the Nuoc Cham add about 1/4 cup of sesame oil, more or less to taste. Whisk together and pour over salad.

Basic Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham)

Makes ¾ cup

3 tablespoons lime juice (1 fat, thin skin lime)
2 tablespoons sugar
½ cup water
2 ½ tablespoons fish sauce

Optional additions:
1 small garlic clove, finely minced
1 or 2 Thai chilis, thinly sliced or 1 teaspoon homemade chili garlic sauce or store bought (tuong ot toi)

1. Make limeade. Combine the lime juice, sugar and water, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Taste and ask yourself this question: Does this limeade taste good? Adjust the flavors to balance out the sweet and sour.

2. Finish with fish sauce. Add the fish sauce and any of the optional ingredients. Taste again and adjust the flavors to your liking, balancing out the sour, sweet, salty and spicy. Aim for a bold, forward finish -- perhaps a little stronger than what you'd normally like. This sauce is likely to be used to add final flavor to foods wrapped in lettuce or herbs, which are not salted and therefore need a little lift to heighten the overall eating experience. My mother looks for color to gauge her dipping sauce. When it's a light honey or amber, she knows she's close.

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