Vietnamese food is one of my favorite cuisines for many reasons, not only because I am Vietnamese.
In Vietnam, meals served in the home are very balanced: meat, vegetables and rice, sometimes soup on the side with more greens in it. This is breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are lots of different varieties of dishes that require fresh ingredients, since refrigeration was not available past times. The foundation of Vietnamese food is fresh, healthy and a great variety of vegetables. Fruit is traditionally served as dessert and is just as varied as the vegetables.
This Vietnamese recipe for the traditional Bun (pronounced as boon) is my custom quick version. The only difference between my recipe and the traditional is the dressing. Also, like many Vietnamese recipes, each one will vary by the home it’s made in. Here is the version for our home. I used the term “home” because it is a direct translation to how it is said in Vietnamese.
I consider Bun to be more like a warm salad. There’s lots of raw vegetables, rice noodles, and some meat. In my version, I use the cooking juices and lemon juice for the dressing. Traditionally, the dressing is made using fish sauce, lots of sugar, lemon juice and water. Although it’s delicious, the added sugar how this dish can turn from healthy to unhealthy for me.
As with any recipe, I always encourage adding more veggies when you can. Some additional vegetables that work for this are: shredded carrot, thinly sliced red/orange/yellow bell peppers, bean sprouts, baby spring lettuce or any lettuce. I kept this Vietnamese recipe simple so that you can get the idea of the basics of the dish.
Vietnamese Bun Recipe
Serves: 2 Prep and Cook: 1 hour
Marinade Recipe – prepare this before you do anything else!
1-1.5 lb pork shoulder or chop (with a little fat on it)
2-3 cloves of garlic, pressed or finely chopped
1 Tbl fish sauce (you can use soy sauce, but it will change the dish)
2 tsp organic unrefined sugar
1/2 shallot, if it’s large OR 1 whole one if it’s small
***If you can, do this step in the morning or the night before, it will make all the difference. Plus, it’s good practice to make a habit if preparing food in advance.
- Prepare all the marinade ingredients and mix in a bowl.
- Carefully rinse and dry your meat. Place it in a zip lock bag, in a size that is just big enough to fit all the meat. You want it to be almost snug fitting.
- Pour all of the marinade into the bag. Seal it up and gently push out any excess air.
- Gently massage the bag and distribute the marinade to both sides of the meat.
- Place the bag on a plate and put in the refrigerator. It needs to marinate for at least 30 minutes, if you cannot prepare this in advance.
- Remove the plate from the refrigerator and set on counter to let it warm up a little, about 15 minutes.
1/2 cup coconut water
1 large cucumber
2-3 green onion stalks, depends on how much you like it
10-15 cilantro stems with lots of leaves, leafless part of the stalk removed
5-8 mint stems, keep the leaves only
3-5 red lettuce leaves
1/3 package of dried fine rice noodles
1/2 lemon, juiced into a small bowl or ramekin
How to make Vietnamese Bun Recipe
For time efficiency, you will cook the meat while you prepare the vegetables. I used a small enameled cast iron pot from Le Crueset. You can use a 4 quart stainless steel pan. You need a cooking vessel that will allow you to sear and then slow cook with the coconut water.
- Brown the meat on both sides. Add the remaining marinade.
- Start by adding half the coconut water to the pan. You want to use only enough to reach the surface of the meat. Anymore than that, you will end up with soup. The 1/2 cup measurement is more of an approximation. For this instance, I only needed just under 1/2 cup.
- Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to med-low and let it simmer for the next 45 minutes.
On to the vegetables. Get a cookie sheet, plate or anything you can place the vegetables on when you are done cutting. I used a pizza pan.
- Wash all vegetables. Separate leaves from stems for both mint and cilantro.
- Cut the cucumber into spears/sticks. They should be the length of what it would take you to take 2 bites, roughly 3-4 inches.
- Roughly chop the mint and cilantro together.
- Cut the green onion in half, separating a where the green meets the white part.
- Chop the white part and add it to the meat that is cooking.
- Chop the green part and set it with the other vegetables.
- Lay the lettuce leaves on top of each other and chop into strips, perpendicular to the way it grows.
Bonus Chopping Technique for the cucumbers:
At this point, we have all the vegetables ready. Since the meat needs to slow cook for at least 45 minutes and we just spent about 15 minutes to prep the vegetables, there’s still lots of time before dinner. This is when I take the chance to get my evening shower in, thus filling up 10 more minutes. I’m all about efficiency!
When I get back down, I start the process for the noodles. Fill a pot with water and bring it to a boil. You will not need all the noodles in the package. Try to separate out about 1/3 of the noodles.
- Set up a bowl next to the boiling water. This is where you will directly transfer the noodles to when they are done cooking.
- Add the noodles to the boiling water and let it cook 2 minutes. This part is like pasta: you want to make sure it’s al dente, so pull out a sample noodle and pinch it with your fingers. They noodles are really find and cool fast, so you won’t burn yourself. It should feel soft, pliable and split with just the pressure of your fingernail.
- Transfer to the bowl.
Now you want to check the meat. It should be tender and easily pierced with a chopstick. If you cannot pierce it, the meat needs to cook longer. Sometimes it helps to turn up the heat a little. When the meat is ready, transfer it to a plate and cut into bite size pieces.
Scoop out 1/2 cup of the cooking juices and mix it with the lemon juice. Now your dressing is ready.
The Final Step
Finally, we arrange the bowl in this order:
Noodles – Mint & Cilantro – Lettuce – Meat – Green Onions – Dressing
Mix everything up and enjoy!