We make many variations of these salad bowls because we love them so much! They’re great with rice or rice noodles, and in the summer, I like to make them with extra lettuce and no rice for a lighter meal. These salad bowls are a great way to add lots of fresh flavor in the middle of the winter because they rely on simple vegetables that are easily available year round.
These salad bowls started as a way to have Vietnamese food at home, when we weren’t in Calgary (see Basil Vietnamese Restaurant). They’re similar to bun noodle bowls that you would order at a Vietnamese restaurant, with lots of fresh vegetables and herbs. I started trying to make them at home, but I never quite got the flavor until I started adding water to the Nuoc Cham (the dressing for this salad). By diluting the fish sauce flavor, I finally arrived at the flavors I recognized from eating out. By the way, it’s totally not authentic to water down your Nuoc Cham, but it does seem to suit American palates.
You can use any kind of lettuce for this meal, but I prefer either green leaf lettuce or romaine in the winter. In the summertime, we like to use Little Gem lettuce from the garden, (be sure to look for it at Farmer’s Market, it’s like a smaller – softer romaine with great flavor).
For the fresh herbs, I like to use lots of cilantro and green onions because they’re reasonably priced in the winter. For the basil, I keep a few bunches of living basil from the store in mason jars so that we can have a bit of fresh basil here and there throughout the winter.
I always make a big batch of the pickled carrots and the Nuoc Cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce – aka the dressing for this salad) because both will keep for 2 weeks in the fridge. That way, it cuts the prep time down by quite a bit when I make it the next time.
For the Nuoc Cham/dipping sauce, I usually use brown rice vinegar instead of the traditional fresh lime juice. I definitely like it both ways, but the version with vinegar keeps longer in the fridge.
While the turkey is cooking, assemble the chili paste, fish sauce, and minced garlic (garlic press works great here).
For the meat, start by sautéeing the shallot and then add the ground turkey. Once the turkey is lightly browned, add the chili paste, garlic, and fish sauce and remove the pan from the heat. There will still be a few juices in the bottom of the pan which adds to the dressing flavors in the salad.
We make these salad bowls with all different kinds of meats, from ground pork to ground chicken. We also do lemongrass beef skewers on the grill, but that’s probably a recipe for another day. You can also follow the recipe for satay chicken in my Satay Chicken Lettuce Wraps, and substitute the chicken into this salad bowl recipe – endless variations.
Just a few final notes about fish sauce:
1. Don’t tell anyone it’s in there, and they’ll probably love it! I’ve converted several people now who thought they didn’t like fish sauce with this recipe.
2. Use a good quality fish sauce like Red Boat. Lower quality fish sauces can contain all kinds of undesirable ingredients, and sometimes can have a weird even off putting flavor.
- 3 cups long grain white rice
- 6 cups water
- 4-6 cups lettuce, shredded and washed
- ½ cup coarsely chopped basil
- 1 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
- 1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
- Quick Pickled Carrots:
- 2 cups grated carrots
- 2 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- Nuoc Cham:
- ¼ cup fish sauce
- ¼ cup water
- 2 Tablespoons Grade A maple syrup
- 2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 Teaspoon chili paste
- 1 pound ground turkey, (I used dark meat)
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 1 shallot, minced
- 2 Teaspoons chili paste
- 1 Tablespoon fish sauce
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- Rinse and drain the rice 3 times, until it's no longer cloudy. Place the rice and the water into a saucepan and bring it to a boil. After it comes to a boil, lower the heat to low and place a lid on the saucepan. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until the rice is tender and the water is fully absorbed. After the rice is done, set it aside until you finish the rest of the recipe.
- Next, assemble the salad ingredients into individual serving bowls.
- Place the grated carrots in a serving bowl and sprinkle the vinegar over the top.
- In another bowl, stir together the ingredients for the Nuoc Cham.
- Finally, for the turkey, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.
- Add the olive oil and shallot, and sauté until tender and golden brown.
- Add the ground turkey to the pan and break it up with a wooden spoon or spatula.
- While the turkey is cooking mix together the chili paste, fish sauce, and minced garlic. When the turkey is cooked through add the chili paste mixture, stir to combine and remove from the heat.
- Serve all the components of this recipe together and everyone can assemble their salad bowls to their liking.
You can also use brown rice in this recipe, just adjust for the longer cooking time.
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