I have a bit of a habit of perusing international grocery stores, getting a “little” over excited and probably (definitely) buying too many things. I often spot items that I not only don’t know how to cook with, but often not even recognise, so in my excitement to learn, they get added to the shopping basket with the promise to myself of taking them home and researching what to do with.
This has now lead to a slight expansion of my tiny kitchen, out into the living room, because there are only so many goodies I can tuck away in my limited cupboard space.
On one such trip, browsing the freezer section at one of the local Asian supermarkets (a treasure trove in my opinion), I came upon packets of frozen yuba, or tofu skin. As you can imagine, this ended up in my basket, taken home and safely stashed in my freezer.
Sometime later, after giving myself a kick for not getting on all the numerous projects I subscribe myself to sooner, I sat down to understand the mysteries of cooking with yuba. After reading through a few explanations and a nice handful of recipes I settled on a punchy looking Vietnamese salad off Serious Eats. It was fantastic! So much so that I have not only made this salad numerous times, but I think the dressing has such a great kick to it I’ve started using it on my fridge clean out nights when I make a grated vegetable salad.
Admittedly I have changed the salad from Serious Eats slightly, went without the citrus, and took the lazy method of using store bought fried shallots. Sometimes I also add in some sliced raw green beans (they always add a great crunch to Som Tum).
A few notes on the salad:
- Yes I know this recipe asks you to deep fry, and I remember when I first started teaching myself how to cook this was a big turn off, but what makes so many South-East Asian salads so exciting is the great mix of both flavours and textures. The deep frying here is going to get you that wonderfully crunchy textures with the yuba. If you have the oil at the right temperature, things should never taste greasy either!
- I used a thin spaghetti shaped rice noodle, which I think works fantastically in this salad. They are not vermicelli or glass noodles, and if you cannot find them I would recommend going for the larger, rather than smaller noodle. But in saying that, doused in this dressing, it’s all gonna taste pretty darn good.
- Don’t skimp on the fresh herbs, they are the greenery for this salad and give it a wonderful fresh kick. You don’t need to cut them, just pick the whole leaves off the stems.
- Further to the discussion on the noodles, once you have cooked them, make sure you run them under cold water as soon as they are drained, using your fingers to irritate them under the water. You do not want an overcooked conglomerate of noodles to add to your salad (the disappointment is real!).
- I have made many a salad that requires grating a carrot. I technically have 3 methods of grating said carrots – a box grater, a julienne insert on my mandolin and a vegetable grater on my food processor. My observation has been that the box grater and food processor produce a grate that is juicier and softer (i.e. more damage is occurring to the cell walls with these methods). For something like a grated carrot salad, this is my preference, otherwise I find the salad a little too dry and flavourless. However, the mandolin produces something more akin to the julienne method (i.e. match sticks). The carrot is both drier and crunchier. For a salad like this, I prefer the julienne method because the roll of the carrot is more about the texture and crunch, and you have enough stuff happening from the other elements in the salad that it tasting bland is not a problem at all.
- Finally, as I briefly mentioned above, this salad dressing is genius and I have started using it often on my fridge clean out nights. If I have any of the following veg, I either grate or slice them up, chuck them in a bowl together with the dressing and then finish off with a handful of chopped peanuts, fried shallots and any fresh herbs that need using up (i.e. mint, coriander, Thai basil, shiso, parsley). If you have any of the following in your fridge: carrots, kohlrabi, zucchini, spring onions, Chinese chives, cabbage, napa cabbage, cucumber, green beans, capsicum, corn, celery, green papaya or mango (just to name things that I can think of off the top of my head).
Vietnamese Spicy Rice Noodle and Yuba Salad
For the salad
- 75 g thin rice noodles*
- 75 g yuba (tofu skin) fresh or frozen
- 1 medium carrot
- 1 Lebanese cucumber
- 1/2 cup mint leaves
- 1/2 cup coriander leaves
- 1/3 cup roasted peanuts
- 1/3 cup fried shallots
- Vegetable oil for deep frying
For the dressing
- 2 red Thai chillies
- 1 clove garlic
- Pinch of salt
- 1 1/2 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 1/2 tbsp lime juice
- 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1/2 tsp Maggi seasoning
To make dressing
- Roughly chop the garlic and chill and add to a mortar and pestle with the pinch of salt and grind to a rough paste.
- Add the brown sugar, lime juice, soy sauce and Maggi and stir to combine.
To make the salad
- Peel the cucumber, cut in half length-ways and scrap out the seeds with a spoon. Cut each half into 1/2 cm moons on an angle and add to a large salad bowl.
- Peel the carrot (if you want) and grate on the large holes of a box grater, or using a grater attachment on your mandolin**. Add this to the bowl with the cucumber.
- If your herbs are still on stems, pick them off and add to the bowl with the veg.
- On the stove top bring one pot of water to a boil, and heat another pot with the vegetable oil.
- When the water boils add the noodles and cook for about 4-5 minutes, until just cooked through (I often test by pulling a stand out the pot and trying it). Dump the noodles into a colander and run under cold water to stop them sticking together and leave to drain.
- Cut the yuba into triangles and when the oil has reached about 180°C, start deep frying them in small batches until they are nice and crispy, placing them on a paper towel lined plate to drain.
- Add the noodles to the bowl with the veg and herbs, pour the dressing over the top and toss well. Add the fried yuba pieces and gently toss again.
- Divide the salad onto plates, roughly chop up the peanuts and sprinkle over the top along with the fried shallots. Dig in!