Soft, silky rice noodles are a textural delight, with a lively springiness that has them practically bouncing in your mouth, yet yielding completely when you bite down. Gentle in nature, they happily absorb the flavors of all manner of vegetables, herbs and seasonings, making them a versatile foundation for savory salads.
Here, the noodles are tossed with an equal amount of vegetables to keep things light and bright. Tomatoes add juiciness. Cucumbers, romaine lettuce and bean sprouts add crunch. Several cups of herbs — basil, mint and cilantro — add a zippy complexity.
But what really gives this salad its oomph is its dressing, a mix of brawny ground pork sautéed with lime and orange juices, fish sauce and plenty of ginger and garlic.
It may seem like a lot of ingredients — and, well, it is a lot of ingredients — but each one brings something important to the mix, building the dish’s character and making every bite just a little different from the last.
I like to serve my rice noodles either warm, or at room temperature, but not cold. Once you put them in the fridge, they seize up and clump together into a nearly solid, crunchy blob.
Instead, serve this salad just after you’ve tossed it together, when the greens are still crisp and the noodles satiny and elastic. You can also make it a few hours in advance and leave it at room temperature. But if it must go in the fridge (in the unlikely event there’s any left over), bring it to room temperature before devouring. If your kitchen is warm, this will happen relatively quickly, in under an hour.
Or, if you’re absolutely starving, zap the salad in the microwave, tossing every 20 seconds. A little wilted lettuce and floppy cucumber is a small price to pay for the pleasures of supple rice noodles coated in glistening, oily-in-a-good-way bits of pork.
This said, if you’d rather not have the meat, just leave it out and add a couple of extra tablespoons of oil to the pan with the ginger and garlic. The oil gives the sauce the needed richness and body, rounding out the flavors. And with all the tangy, well-seasoned noodles at the heart of the plate, this salad won’t lack for a thing.