I love eating out and never seem to grow tired of Thai or Vietnamese food. I love the fresh flavours, the use of lemongrass, chilli, ginger, garlic, lime and herbs, and the generous amount of fresh salad and vegetables that usually comes with these type of foods. So when thinking about what to make for dinner and coming up with new recipes, I often use our dining experiences as inspiration.
One of our favourite Vietnamese restaurants makes these great salad bowls filled with glass noodles, shredded lettuce, cucumber, carrots, bean sprouts and fresh coriander with your choice of protein on top. They all come with nuoc cham dipping sauce, a Vietnamese staple that is the perfect balance of sweet, sour and salty, which you pour over the entire salad like a dressing just before eating. Recently we’ve also had some amazing Vietnamese street food style lettuce cups which were filled with chicken and scampi, which got me thinking about how delicious it would be to combine these two ideas. The result was these Vietnamese lettuce cups with white fish and nuoc cham sauce.
The glass noodle I used are made from mung bean and pea starch and are super easy to prepare. Simply pour boiling water over to cover them, let them stand 5 minutes, then drain. They should be available in most supermarkets. For the lettuce cups I chose baby cos as they make the perfect bite size holding cup. For the salad component I used cucumber ribbons, some freshly picked herbs like mint, coriander and basil. If you can grown your own herbs it’s a much cheaper option than buying a new bunch at the supermarket each time, plus you’ll have the added advantage of them being organic! Micro greens are a pretty optional extra and are usually available from any good green grocer, I used rhubarb sprouts in these photos.
Lastly I used white fish as the protein which I simply pan fried in a little chilli salt and rice flour. In New Zealand fish such as gurnard, tarakihi or snapper would be great. But you could equally use any protein you like such as tofu, scampi, prawns or chicken. If you’d prefer a raw version then I think sashimi grade salmon or white fish would be amazing too. The nuoc cham dipping sauce is very easy to make, simply stir all the ingredients together until the coconut sugar dissolves. This can be made well ahead of time, covered and left at room temperature.
You can choose whether you put all the components into bowls and let everyone build their own lettuce cups, or the less messy option is to serve them already assembled and let people spoon the dipping sauce over themselves. Any leftovers can be combined into a Vietnamese style salad and make a great for lunch then next day. Enjoy!
Vietnamese Lettuce Cups with White Fish & Nuoc Cham Sauce
Serves: 2 (approximately 4- 5 lettuce cups each)
Prep time: 20 minutes Cooking time: 10 minutes
2 bundles glass noodles (bean thread noodles)
1 baby cos lettuce
1/2 telegraph cucumber
1 handful fresh mint leaves
1 handful fresh coriander leaves
1 handful fresh basil leaves
1 handful micro greens (these are optional extra, I used rhubarb shoots in these photos)
1 small red fresh chilli, finely sliced
2 Tbsp fish sauce
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp coconut sugar
2 fillets of white fish (e.g. snapper, tarakihi or gurnard)
2 Tbsp brown rice flour
1 tsp chilli salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil for frying
Sesame seeds for decoration (optional)
Prepare your glass noodles by placing in a heat proof bowl and pouring over boiling water to cover. Allow to stand for 5 minutes and then drain.
Prepare the salad ingredients by washing well. Separate the cos lettuce into single leaves. Use a vegetable peeler to peel ribbons of cucumber. Pick the herbs leaves of their stems and separate the micro cress if using.
Prepare the nuoc cham sauce by combining the red chilli, fish sauce, lime juice and coconut sugar in a small bowl and whisking until the sugar has dissolved.
Lastly prepare the fish by washing and removing any scales or bones. Cut into smaller bite size pieces and pat dry with paper towel. Place the rice flour, chilli salt & pepper on a small plate and roll the fish pieces in it to coat. Heat a little oil in a non stick fry pan over medium heat and when hot add the fish. Pan fry for a couple of minutes each side until lightly golden and the fish is cooked. Remove from heat.
To assemble the lettuce cups, place of small bundle of noodles in the centre of a piece of baby cos, top with a piece of fish, followed by cucumber ribbons, fresh herbs and a drizzle of nuoc cham sauce. Serve immediately while the fish is still hot.