Lemongrass Pork Vietnamese Noodle Bowls

These days eating gluten free at home has become second nature. The only remaining trace of gluten in our home is the loaf of bread Kyle has for his morning toast or sandwiches; not that he wouldn’t eat my delicious loaf of gluten-free bread, but I’m cheap…and gluten-free bread from the store is not; therefore, Kyle is forced to continue eating his bread. I don’t think he minds. The only times I really become cognizant of not being able to eat gluten is when we go out to eat. Restaurants around the world are becoming more aware of gluten allergies, however, in my small city, I’m still not sure if they really understand the complexity of gluten allergies. I know it may seem narrow-minded of me to think that small-town staff wouldn’t be educated in the ins-and-outs of gluten; but my trust in the restaurant crew wanes when I get a quizzical look from a server or host after I ask about what I can eat when I have a gluten sensitivity. If I have to explain gluten in detail to you, I’m not going to feel confident when you tell me that dish “x” is safe and I could probably eat dish “y.” No thanks, I’ll just have the salad – dressing on the side. I detest the feeling that the staff thinks I’m just being picky; not knowing that I will get sick if I eat even a smidgen of gluten.

It’s after these outings that I long to move to a bigger city – where there are gluten-free restaurants! Or ones that offer vast sections on their menu that state “gluten free.” Places where I know they will take the matter of cross-contamination seriously. Although, I suppose we don’t eat out very often, so I can just look forward to venturing out to these gluten-allergy-friendly joints on trips out of town. In the meantime, I have gotten busy in the kitchen preparing the meals I am craving, but can no longer order when we go out.

I really miss Asian food. Overall the dishes appear to be gluten-free, with the rice & rice noodles, fresh vegetables, and juicy & chewy meats. But it’s the soy sauce that is the main offender (which ends up in many oyster & hoisin sauces). There are lots of gluten-free soy sauces, but as much as I ask the serving staff, I’ve never received a clear answer about what kind of soy sauce is used in their dishes. I suppose tasty recipes have to be kept secret to continue to bring in customers. One dish I was recently craving was a Vietnamese noodle bowl with charred lemongrass pork. I missed the saltiness of the pork and nuoc cham. So I developed this gluten-free recipe and shared it with some friends. I even added some grilled vegetables for added sustenance, and of course served it with my favourite sauce: Prik Nam Pla. This was a hit, and I’ve made it a few times since. The ingredient list may seem daunting – but that’s just because of all the “toppings” to sprinkle over your plain rice noodles – omit and add what you desire. There is not a right way to eat this when you’re catering to your taste buds.

Vietnamese Noodle Bowls with Lemongrass Pork & Grilled Vegetables

The lemongrass pork recipe can somewhat be attributed to Naomi Duguid’s & Jeffrey Alford’s book Hot Sour Salty Sweet. Although there isn’t a recipe that seemed to mirror that charred pork served in Vietnamese restaurants – mainly there was no soy sauce, and most of the pork & lemongrass recipes involved minced meat. So here is my approximation, it may not be authentic, but it’s good. For the pork loin, it is much easier to purchase a pork loin roast – which typically comes in 2-3 lbs. Cut off what you think looks like 1 pound; then freeze the remainder for another use (or for the next time you want to make this dish). Don’t forget to factor in time to marinate this dish – at least 1 hour. To ensure you are not running around trying to get everything prepared at the last minute, cut up all your accompaniments before you start grilling the pork and vegetables. 

For the pork:
1 lb pork loin
1 stalk lemongrass, dry outer leaves removed and tender part finely chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp fish sauce – make sure it’s gluten free (beware, some manufacturers add wheat)
2 Tbsp gluten free soy sauce
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 tsp pepper

For the grilled vegetables:
1 Japanese eggplant
1 zucchini
1 bunch broccolini
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp pepper
1-2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp sesame oil

For the noodle bowls:
rice noodles
cooked pork & veggies
nuoc cham (recipe below or search the internet) – this is the typical sauce served with noodle bowls
Suggested Accompaniments – all optional
carrot, julienne/matchstick cut
2″ piece of cucumber, seeds removed, julienne/matchstick cut
iceberg lettuce, shredded
green onions, sliced
roasted peanuts, chopped
cilantro, chopped
mint, chopped
basil, chopped
Sriracha
Sambal Oelek
Prik Nam Pla

For the lemongrass pork: Cut the pork loin into 1/4″ – 1/2″ slices across the grain. Working with 1 piece of pork at a time, place the pork between 2 sheets of plastic wrap, then pound to about 1/8″ thick – for this you can use a meat mallet, rolling pin, or even a large can of beans/soup. Combine remaining ingredients for pork (lemongrass through pepper) into a large zip-top bag or large dish. Add the pork to the marinade and allow to marinate in the fridge for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours. Pull pork out of fridge at least 1/2 hour before you are going to grill in order for it to come up to room temperature.

For the grilled vegetables: Cut the eggplant and zucchini into 4 vertical slices. Trim the broccolini if necessary. Place in a large bowl and combine the remaining ingredients (garlic through sesame oil) over the vegetables just prior to grilling.

Preheat grill to medium-high. This is a good time to bring the water for your noodles to boil. Place all the pork and vegetables on the grill. Grill the pork and vegetables for about 3-5 minutes per side, or until cooked through. Pull of any vegetables as they are cooked. Meanwhile, cook your rice noodles according to package directions. When vegetables and meat are cooked, transfer to a cutting board and cut into bite-sized pieces (be careful, everything will be hot) – I don’t bother chopping the broccolini, it’s fun to eat whole.

To serve: place approximately 1 cup of cooked rice noodles in a bowl. Top with pork and vegetables and any accompaniments you desire. You can either dish up everyone’s bowls and serve restuarant-style, or place all the toppings on the table and place out bowls of rice noodles and serve family-style, letting everyone top their own dishes.

Serves 4-6.

Nuoc Cham

Adapted from Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Jeffery Alford and Naomi Duguid

juice from 1 juicy lime
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup water
2 tsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp sugar
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 thai bird chile, minced (optional)
shreds of carrot (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl, stirring to dissolve the sugar. You can either split this up into individual condiments bowls for each person, or alternatively, place a spoon in the bowl and everyone can spoon over their desired amount. Keeps in the fridge for up to 3 days.

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