Vermicelli Bowls

One of my all time favorite work-day lunches is the Vietnamese vermicelli bowl.  It’s filling but light enough not to put you in an afternoon coma, and it exemplifies all the lovely contrasts that make Vietnamese food so delicious and intriguing – funky fish sauce and cool cucumber, soft vermicelli and crunchy pickled carrots, savory five spice grilled chicken (in this version) and fresh green herbs.

There are a lot of components but it’s a totally manageable weeknight dinner, especially if you can get someone else to do the grilling.  It’s great when it’s too hot out to turn on the stove – which was the case here until a couple of weeks ago.

I made this with grilled chicken but my favorite is grilled pork and imperial rolls.  Grilled shrimp is also classic.  I would imagine you could put just about anything on this and it would be delicious.

I’ve made a few things now from this book, Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan, and they’re all delicious.  I recommend!

vermicelli bowl

Grilled Five Spice Chicken Vermicelli Bowls (Bun)
recipe from Vietnamese Home Cooking

  • Vermicelli rice noodles – fresh or dried (cooked, rinsed in cold water, and drained)
  • Grilled five-spice chicken
  • Pickled carrots
  • Julienned cucumber
  • Shredded lettuce
  • Spearmint sprigs
  • Cilantro sprigs
  • Chopped peanuts

First, marinate your chicken

  • 1 cup fish sauce
  • ½ cup light soy sauce
  • ¼ cup minced garlic
  • ¾ cup minced shallots
  • 2-3 Thai chiles, stemmed and minced
  • 1 tsp five-spice powder
  • 2 lbs boneless chicken parts of your choice

Mix all marinade ingredients well. Add chicken, mix to coat evenly. Marinate at room temp for up to 2 hours or up to overnight in the fridge. If you fridge it, let it come up to room temp before you grill.

Next, pickle your carrots:

  • 1 medium carrot, peeled
  • 2 tbsp white vinegar
  • 2 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt

Julienne your carrots into matchsticks – as thin as you can/want to bother with. In a small bowl, combine vinegars, sugar, and salt and stir until sugar and salt have dissolved. Add carrots and let stand at least 20 minutes. Will keep up to a week, covered in the fridge. Drain well before using.

Now, dress up your fish sauce:

  • ½ cup fish sauce
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup white vinegar or fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-2 Thai chiles, stemmed and minced

In a small bowl, stir the fish sauce, sugar, vinegar or lemon juice, and ½ cup water until the sugar has dissolved. Add the garlic and chiles and stir to combine. Use immediately, or refrigerate up to 1 week if made with vinegar and 2 days if made with lemon juice.

Next, grill your chicken, or better yet dispatch someone else to do so. When done, cut into strips.

Assemble! Put a handful of shredded lettuce in the bottom of your bowl, then a handful of vermicelli, and then all the other stuff – however much you want. Top with a generous dose of your fish sauce and dig in.

Greek Chicken Pie (Kotopita)

I love a good roast chicken, preferably homemade but I’m totally not above a grocery store rotisserie birdie on a weeknight.  I love to pick at the carcass like that guy from Amelie, and I always go for the oysters. And one of the best things about roast chicken is all the leftover meat to make delicious things out of.  This pie is quick and simple (yes, even with the phyllo), and the warm cinnamon takes it a step out of the ordinary while still remaining immensely comforting.

I’ve been on a little phyllo kick lately.  I decided to overcome my assumption that phyllo is just too complicated, because really, we make pretty much every other complicated thing out there, so why not this too?  You need a big smooth space to work on (I use a double-wide Silpat, which is a very handy thing to have around) and a basting brush, but that’s about it.  If your phyllo is cracked, like mine was, just get creative – it’s deliberately messy!

greek chicken pie (kotopita)

Greek Chicken Pie (Kotopita)
adapted from Kokkari

  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • ¾ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3 cups shredded cooked chicken
  • 10 sheets frozen phyllo, thawed

In a large skillet, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until well softened, 10-12 minutes. Add the cinnamon and stir for another minute or two. Transfer to a large bowl and add the chicken, stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Preheat the oven to 375°. Put the remaining 3 tbsp of olive oil in a bowl. Brush the bottom and sides of a 9” x 13” baking dish with oil. (I used a pie plate instead, because I had a little less chicken. I laid 4 sheets out over the plate with plenty of overhang, then just folded them over the filling and somewhat artfully crumpled them.)

Stack the phyllo sheets on a work surface and trim them so they measure about 10” x 14”, a little bigger than the dish on all sides. Layer 5 sheets in the bottom of the dish, brushing each layer with olive oil. Spread the chicken filling in an even layer, then top with the remaining 5 sheets of phyllo, brushing each layer with olive oil.

With a sharp knife, cut the pie into 15 squares. Bake, uncovered, until golden brown and crisp, about 45 minutes. Serve warm, not hot.

Serves 6.

Incidentally, the whole time I was making and eating this, all I could think about was Chicken Run, which is a great movie if you haven’t seen it.  The villain has this gnarly, sour voice and the way she says “Mrs. Tweedy’s Chicken Pies” has been stuck in my head for the last two days.  I guess this is Mrs. Young’s Chicken Pie? (Stop squeeeing, mom.)

Fried Chicken Picnic

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I love fried chicken. I have known about Thomas Keller’s famous ad hoc buttermilk fried chicken but I never could get organized enough to make it to Yountville and now that I have a toddler, fine dining has taken on a new set of challenges. Turns out, Thomas Keller has thought of the masses who want to eat his fried chicken and has erected a shack behind ad hoc – ad hoc addendum where he peddles boxed lunches of fried and BBQ chicken (though I do not understand why you would ever get BBQ chicken when there is fried chicken). Best of all, on Thursday, Friday and Saturdays between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., you can order it online and indicate when you want to pick up your wonderous picnic lunch. For $16.95 you get three pieces of chicken, honey cornbread, potato salad and coleslaw and all you have to do is show up at the appointed time, bypass the long line to the pick up window and they hand you a bag of crispy fried chicken. It’s not a cheap picnic lunch, but it is Thomas Keller. I should also note that almost all the people waiting in line were Asian. We love our celebrity chefs, especially when they live up to the hype.

Ad hoc addendum does provide some picnic tables but we went across the street to a great park where we set up a little picnic. The chicken was crispy, incredibly flavorful and honestly some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever had. And I have eaten a LOT of fried chicken. The honey cornbread was also delicious, although the potato salad and the coleslaw, while good, did not blow me away. You can see how they make it here.

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If you ever plan a trip to Napa and want to have a no fuss lunch option or you just love fried chicken, I highly recommend a trip to the ad hoc addendum.