A recipe for Vietnamese style rice noodle bowls – bun ga nuong – with vermicelli rice noodles, a fragrant lemongrass chicken, plenty of fresh vegetables and herbs, and a lime-based chile-spiked sauce for the top.
There’s a shopping list scrawled in the corner of our monthly calendar. The items are revolving, updated frequently, or left to sit, forgotten. As soon as a few items are removed, others are added for the next trip.
For the past three weeks, the one item that held steady on the list was baking powder. It wasn’t with any sort of intention omitted from our weekly shopping trips, the six of us piling in the car and then out once we reach the store, the kids picking out produce as I tell them what we’re buying, our bodies taking up too much space in between mounds of grapefruit and narrow aisles, the shopping cart providing the home base for our unit as we make our way towards the register.
Instead, it was my inability to bring the list with me. It’s attached to a wall on a calendar. It doesn’t travel well, this place where I choose to write my list. My desk wall is covered in sticky notes, my desk top a scattered wasteland of scrawled black ink. Drawings line the edges, are fit in between the to-do lists, recipe notes, ideas, things to remember. They dance along between the words, these tiny sketches, patterns of lines, scribbles turned purposeful. Filling in the blank spaces.
Ole picked one up from the counter last week, notes on the back of an envelope. “Is this garbage? You don’t need it, right?” Incredulity sneaking into his voice as he asked.
“Yes I need it. It has a recipe on it.” I take the envelope from his hand, turn it over, and point to a small 1″ square at the top-right-to-middle of the mess. I feel his eyes judging this system, the corners creased with love.
My shopping list, though, isn’t on a sticky note. It’s on a wipe-board hung on the wall. It is a constant in the kitchen. It doesn’t come to the store with us, where I’m distracted, not by filling the margins with lines and shapes, but by crayon-colored displays of food, purple potatoes, red peppers, green cucumbers. By bumping bodies, jostling their own carts of kids or walking hand in hand with their significant other through the aisles.
This is how it happens, as I stand in front of the pepper display, dreaming up dinner ideas while I stare at their shined, waxy exteriors – some bumpy, some smooth – that I forget the baking powder a few aisles over, and instead, I send my kids scattering through the store in search of ingredients for an entirely different meal than the one we had planned.
The farmers market not yet open for spring, I find myself drawn to the Asian market up the road, their bundles of verdant herbs and bags of crisp bean sprouts working to fill the void of the market stalls for a few more weeks.
These Vietnamese rice noodle bowls, called bun ga nuong – bun for the noodles, ga nuong for grilled chicken – are filled with these herbs. You needn’t serve them with as many as I have here, but an herb or two, something clean and crunchy (like a cucumber, carrots, or bean sprouts), and something rich and savory with the roasted peanuts or fried shallots provide a good mix of contrasting flavors, all topped with the sweet-sour-spicy sauce. This meal is best served as piles of noodles in a bowl, the fixings in the center of the table for everyone to pile on as they prefer.
Lemongrass Chicken Rice Noodle Bowls: Bun Ga Nuong
- For the chicken:
- 1 lemongrass stalk, minced (soft inner only)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- ½ teaspoon white pepper
- 1½ pounds de-boned, skinned chicken
- For the sauce:
- ½ cup water
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 Thai bird’s eye chile, minced
- For the fried shallots:
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon high heat cooking oil of choice
- 2-3 shallots, thinly sliced
- For the rice bowl:
- 12 ounces vermicelli rice noodles, fresh or rehydrated
- fresh cilantro
- fresh mint
- sliced scallions
- mung bean sprouts
- marinated mushrooms
- sliced cucumber
- roasted peanuts
- julienned carrots
- julienned daikon radish
- In a shallow dish, combine the lemongrass, garlic, soy sauce, honey, fish sauce, lime juice, sesame oil, and the pepper for the chicken marinade. Set aside 2 tablespoons for basting the chicken as it cooks. Add in the chicken pieces and allow to marinate at least one hour or up to overnight.
- Preheat a grill, grill pan, or cast iron pan. When you are ready to cook the chicken, remove it from the marinade and sear over medium-high heat, 6-8 minutes per side, basting before flipping, until the internal temperature reaches 165ºF. Set aside and let it rest while you prepare the sauce.
- For the sauce, combine the water, lime juice, fish sauce, honey, rice vinegar, and the Thai chile pepper in a bowl. Whisk to combine fully.
- For the shallots, in a small fry pan, heat 1 tablespoon sesame oil and 1 tablespoon cooking oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until the shallots are crisp. Remove from heat and drain on a paper towel or cloth.
- Build your rice noodle bowls by placing a pile of rice noodles in the center of a bowl, garnishing with sliced chicken, vegetables, peanuts, and shallots, and then adding the sauce to your liking.
- For more kick, add additional chiles or sambal oelek to the sauce or directly to your personal rice bowl.
- Fried shallots idea adapted from Molly Wizenberg of Orangette via Delancey.
- I quick-pickled my carrots and radishes by soaking them in a mix of rice vinegar and a bit of sea salt while the chicken marinated. Not necessary, but delicious nonetheless.
Spring is finally here, even though some days may still feel a bit more wintry than sunshine-filled still. Snow greeted us Friday, which called for a creamy chicken gnocchi soup, but Sunday gave hints of seasonal warmth to come.
It’s time again for Eat Seasonal, and this month, like the grass and the weather, are getting green. The farmers market here always starts with new plants, but when I start to see the asparagus and bundles of herbs appear, I know it’s official.
From radishes to limes to rhubarb, be sure to head around and see what we’ve all turned the month’s produce into and follow along on social media using #eatseasonal.
Asparagus and Baked Ricotta Tart by Vintage Mixer
Papaya-Lime Smoothie Bowl with Toasted Cashew-Quinoa Cereal by Floating Kitchen
Easy Maple Mustard Chicken Drumsticks with Roasted Radishes and Asparagus by Simple Bites
Rhubarb Ginger-Berry Bourbon Cooler by Climbing Grier Mountain
Marinated Beets with White Wine Vinegar by Project Domestication
Shallot and Red Wine Jam by Letty’s Kitchen
Lemon Rosemary Shrimp and Broccoli Slaw by Cookin’ Canuck
Spring Vegetable Lemon Risotto by Flavor the Moments
Key Lime Pie by Foodie Crush