Posted by: acooksca | 09/07/2011

Vietnamese-flavored Herb Sauce

Asian Noodle Salad

Asian Noodle Salad

This bright green herb sauce is alive with both fresh and pungent flavors traditional to Vietnamese cuisine. Pureeing the ingredients captures the essence of fresh herbs with the addition of all the base flavors: salty, sweet, sour, bitter and Umami. It remains vibrant for several weeks. A spoonful turns chicken stock into an Asian-inspired soup. It makes an excellent dipping sauce for chicken skewers or rice paper rolls. Noodles, hot or cold, show case all the nuances going on in this sauce. I think of it as my all-purpose Asian “pesto” and a jar is always in my refrigerator.

The more types of herbs you choose the more alluring the flavor, but lean heavily on cilantro and Asian or Thai basil. Other fresh herbs you might find in markets that carry Asian produce are red or green perilla, shiso, Vietnamese coriander and spearmint. Sweet basil, common to Mediterranean cuisine, and standard mint have tough leaves and tend toward a bitter taste once pureed so avoid these. Farmer’s Markets are a good source for fresher, more fragrant herbs.

Rinse the herbs, shake off the excess water but don’t bother drying them as a little water helps in the pureeing. Remove the leaves, discarding most of the stems (a little stem, particularly the tender cilantro stems, will be fine.)

Yields- 3 cups

1 red Thai hot chili (or serrano chili) seeded and roughly chopped
3 medium cloves garlic, peeled 1 scallion, roughly chopped
Juice of 2 fresh limes
3 tablespoons light fish sauce (found in Asian markets)
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons peanut oil
4 packed cups leaves of fresh herbs such as Asian basil and cilantro (see note above).

In a food processor finely chop the chili, garlic and scallion. Add all other ingredients except the herbs and combine well. Add the herbs in batches, occasionally scraping down the sides of the work bowl, until finely chopped. Adjust seasonings to taste. Place in a glass jar, cover with plastic wrap and a snug lid. Sauce holds well for several weeks refrigerated.

For use with noodles, as in the image above, toss the noodles first with a little oil then toss with several spoonfuls of the sauce. The oil helps to coat the noodles more evenly.

Please see the article A Cook’s Tour of Vietnam at for a detailed discussion of cuisine in the South, Central and North of Vietnam.


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