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The Joy of Cooking as Little as Possible

98-degree heat reminds us how unappealing turning on the stove can be… in an apartment… with no air conditioning. We can’t complain too much, since we’re on a low floor and do not get very much direct sunlight, but consumer-grade fans can only take you so far. Still, our current situation is much better than the poorly-ventilated apartment kitchen-closets of yesteryear. After all, Portland’s dry heat is nothing compared to some of the Southern summer saunas we have endured.

The answer for those lucky enough to have a back yard: grilling. One fringe benefit to remember when you take the cooking outdoors: “grilling ahead” for a few lunches or dinners (or simply being mindful of leftovers from a big event like 4th of July) is a lifesaver if you have no air-conditioning. Of course, some grilled foods lend themselves to “grilling ahead” much better than others. Grilled chicken thighs and pork shoulder are much more forgiving to being reheated (especially when compared to breasts and loins, respectively). Some of our favorite reheated leftover situations: Jerk Chicken Legs, pulled and heated through on top of a pot of Jamaican Rice and Peas. Pulled Pork, tossed in a saucepan over low heat with your favorite Mexican hot sauce, served with corn tortillas, cotija, salsa, and fresh cilantro. Any kind of grilled chicken or pork is excellent heated through in a curry—tikka masala with kebabs, fish steak vindaloo, lamb chop saag, green curry with grilled flank steak, pulled pork mole… Just remember to finish cooking the curry before you add the leftover grilled protein; cover and heat through, no more.

For those of us who can’t even bear the thought of simmering curries in their sweltering efficiency kitchen, here’s another, super-easy option that’s satisfying and refreshing: Vietnamese-style bún bowls. Thin rice noodles, shredded or torn lettuce greens, cucumbers, carrots, radishes, scallions, bean sprouts, herbs, and peanuts… served with seasoned fish sauce and chili garlic paste or sriracha. I cannot think of a more refreshing grilled-meat delivery system.

All you have to do is briefly cook the noodles and spend some time chopping or grating vegetables. That’s it. Boil water, start chopping/grating veggies, cook the noodles, drain, rinse, chop some herbs, and put it all in bowls with your previously-grilled protein, sliced and draped on top.

Of course, this recipe is begging to be tweaked according to taste and the contents of you fridge. Want your bowl to be more of an entrée salad? Tear up more of whatever greens you have around: romaine, green or red leaf lettuce, spring mix, frisee, arugula, spinach. Leftover cabbage from slaw-making? Shred it. Have a bunch of turnips or an extra jicama? Slice them up into matchsticks. Snow peas? Blanch, de-string, and slice. A stray rib of celery? Thinly slice on a bias. Seriously, anything crunchy that doesn’t need to be cooked can join the vermicelli bowl party. In fact, you can just lay out a bunch of chopped and shredded vegetables for everyone to make their own bowl.

If you absolutely must cook, we really like to marinate chicken thighs, shrimp, and large slices of pork shoulder in the following mixture for an hour or so before grilling or searing them:

1 large onion, grated
¼ cup Shaoxing wine (or beer)
¼ cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar
¼ cup fish sauce
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon black pepper
(1 tablespoon minced lemongrass)
(¼ teaspoon fried chili paste or ½ teaspoon chili oil)

The added sugar helps foods brown on the grill, but if you plan on cooking in a pan, omit it to avoid burning the meat before it is done. While the meat is cooking, you can simmer the marinade in a saucepan until reduced by half for a delicious alternative condiment to the seasoned fish sauce below (add the sugar to the simmering marinade if you omitted it earlier).

Vietnamese Bún Bowls
4 main-course servings

This recipe is easily scaled up and down. Just figure on 4-6 ounces of protein, 3 ounces of dried rice noodles (slightly more if they are “fresh”), and a heaping cup of greens and sliced vegetables per person. If you don’t like fish sauce, an “Asian” vinaigrette will work here too (or the reduced marinade above). That being said, the dressing below is quite addictive and can be made a week ahead of time, though you might have to make a double batch if you want it to last that long.

For the dressing, whisk together in a bowl until the sugar (if using) has dissolved:
           ½ cup fish sauce
            ½ cup water
            1/3 cup sugar or mirin
            ¼ cup white vinegar or unseasoned rice vinegar
            1 serrano or Thai chile, thinly sliced
            2 cloves of garlic, minced
Set aside. Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook until done:
            ¾ pound dried, thin rice noodles (or 1 pound fresh
                   rice noodles, blanched)
Dump in a colander, rinse with cold water, drain thoroughly, and divide equally between 4 bowls. Tear or shred:
           1 small head of green- or red-leaf lettuce, half a head of Romaine,
                   or 2 cups shredded Napa cabbage

Divide between the bowls. Julienne, shred, or slice:
           1 large cucumber, peeled and seeded
            1 large carrot, peeled
            about ¼ pound red radishes or peeled daikon
            5 green onions or one bunch of chives
Divide between the bowls. Thinly slice into bite-size pieces:
           About 1½ pounds grilled chicken, pork, beef, or whole shrimp,
                 cold or warm
Divide between bowls and arrange next to the julienned vegetables. Serve with the seasoned fish sauce to spoon over the bowls and any of the following garnishes:
           Lime wedges
           Bean or radish sprouts
           Assorted herbs, such as cilantro, rau ram, sawtooth coriander
                 (culantro), mint, purple or green shiso (perilla), or basil
           Chili garlic paste or sriracha
           Chopped peanuts

           

 

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This is written for the grill, but you can easily make these in a lightly greased pan over medium-high to high heat (turn on the fan and disarm the smoke detector!) or 2 inches away from a pre...