Sometimes, it’s the simple things that you crave. After a hectic time at work, I’ve been feeling generally run-down and exhausted. Not the best frame of mind for culinary experiments and, after a bunch of work-related travel, not the time for more restaurant food either. I wanted to eat something very simple that would nourish my weary soul. Vietnamese bún was an obvious answer. A big bowl of noodles mixed in with meat, salad, herbs and nuoc cham sauce, bún feels simultaneously nutritious and homely; light and cosy. You can make a fairly elaborate bún, carefully sourcing herbs and deep-frying spring rolls, but you can probably also knock one together from whatever leaves and vegetables you’ve got kicking around in the fridge. This is a pretty basic version but no less tasty for that. I didn’t have any beansprouts or lemongrass, so I focused on cucumber, lime and mint as the main flavours to complement the beef.
Simple beef bún
- 2 limes
- 2 garlic cloves
- 3 small red chilies
- 6 tbsp fish sauce
- 3 tbsp palm sugar
- 1 steak
- 1 carrot
- 1/2 cucumber
- a small lettuce
- a handful of mint
- a handful of cilantro
- 1/2 pack of thin rice noodles
For the marinade, zest one lime into a bowl with a microplane grater and then juice it. Add 2 tbsp fish sauce, 1 tbsp palm sugar, and 1 garlic clove and 2 chilies, finely chopped. Mix well. Grill the steak briefly on both sides till medium rare. Let it rest for a couple of minutes then slice it thinly and mix the slices into the marinade along with any meat juices.
Prepare the nuoc cham. Pound the remaining garlic and chilies to a paste in a mortar and pestle. Add remaining palm sugar and pound well until the sugar is gloopy. Add fish sauce and the juice of the other lime with several tbsps of warm water to loosen the sauce. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and taste for balance. You might need more lime juice.
Next, make the noodles. Heat a pot of water and, as soon as it comes to the boil, turn off the heat. Add the noodles, stir and cover. They should be done in a couple of minutes. Drain them in a large colander with plenty of cold water to cool them down, then let them dry out.
Now prepare the vegetables. Cut carrots and cucumber into matchsticks, and slice the lettuce thinly. Wash, dry, and chop herbs. To assemble the dish pile noodles in a large bowl for each person and top with beef, lettuce, cucumber, carrot and herbs. Serve with nuoc cham and sriracha.