When you think of healthy meals, which cuisines pop into your head? Often times, it will be those cultural dishes that comprise mainly of vegetables and less of flour and animal meat. What comes to mind for me include Vietnamese, Japanese, and Korean foods. Of those, which will provide you with a quick meal in under 30 minutes? Many of them, but the one that I keep going back to is the Vietnamese bún noodle bowls. I'll tell you why.
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When you’re busy trying to balance your work and life, the last thing you want to think about is slaving over the kitchen for a meal that will take you under 20 minutes to eat. There are plenty of alternative options out there nowadays that make meals nearly instantaneous. That includes meal deliveries, takeaway, and now prepared uncooked meals delivered to you weekly that you can cook yourself and not worry about grocery shopping.
But when you do the math, it’s far cheaper and healthier to make a meal from scratch and control your portions. On days when it’s hard enough to remember if you brushed your teeth and showered, making a bún noodle bowl is a great way for a nutritious, healthy and quick meal.
What’s Great About Bun Bowls?
It's versatility makes it a great option for lunch or dinner.
A nutritious meal that’s heartier and more satisfying than a traditional salad.
Bún bowls are never boring because you can alternate the protein and the vegetables based on what you want to eat that day.
Easy to make in under 30 minutes.
Can be made in large quantities to feed your whole family.
Main Components of a Bún Bowl:
Fish sauce (dipping sauce)
Vegetables (this can be changed up)
Rice Noodles (a staple)
Protein (of your choice)
Optional: Garnish (Peanuts, Cilantro, Mint leaves)
(for 2 servings)
2 cloves garlic
ginger, small piece (about 2 grams)
1 green onion
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon honey (or sugar)
5 tablespoon water
rice vermicelli noodles (2 servings)
bean sprouts (about 100 grams)
1 medium carrot, julienned
1 small cucumber, julienned
3 Romaine lettuce leaves
mint leaves, for garnish
cilantro, for garnish
1/2 lime, seasoning
How to Make a Bún Bowl
Step One: Fish sauce
There’s a big difference between making the fish sauce and using it right away versus allowing it to marinate in its own flavours for a few minutes. It has more of a deeper umami taste when you allow it to sit for a few minutes.
For that reason, it’s best to prepare the fish sauce first before you start cooking any other part of this meal.
Finely mince the garlic, ginger and green onions. Then, place them in a bowl along with the fish sauce, rice vinegar, honey, soy sauce, and water. If you find it to be too salty, add one tablespoon of water at a time until it is to your liking.
Just remember that you're adding it to the noodles and vegetables in the end so you want a slightly concentrated flavor of fish sauce.
If you can take the heat, add 1/2 teaspoonful of chilli flakes to the mix. My husband loves to add minced Thai Bird's Eye chilli peppers. If you can handle the heat, it adds great flavour to the fish sauce. Personally, I prefer something like jalapeños.
Once all of the ingredients are mixed well in a bowl, set this bowl aside.
Step Two: Rice Noodles
Boil water in a pot over the stove. Depending on which brand of noodles you use, the boil time will vary. I've had experience with noodles that require anywhere between 2 minutes to 10 minutes. This particular brand takes about 5 minutes to cook.
Just make sure to use the Rice Vermicelli noodles. I've definitely purchased the wrong ones before (mung bean noodles) and it did not turn out well to say the least. Learn from my mistake. Read the label.
Step Three: Prepare Protein
Traditionally, bún bowls often use pork or beef as the protein. If you're looking for a great Vietnamese pork chop recipe, check it out here.
Personally, I love using chicken or tofu. You can find my Korean Barbecue chicken recipe here for more details. You want this chicken to be marinated for at least 30 minutes prior to cooking. Then, slice the chicken right before plating the dish.
To cook the tofu, slice up the tofu into small rectangles about 1/2 inch thick. Lightly coat them in corn starch (this is an optional step) and then, fry them in a pan coated with oil over medium heat.
The purpose of the corn starch is to make the tofu a bit crispier on the outside. But it's not a necessary step especially if you're not aiming for a crispy texture for your protein.
Fry the tofu for about 3 to 4 minutes on each side until it turns golden. Then, put it aside on a plate to cool.
Step Four: Prepare Vegetables
Julienne the cucumber and carrot. Coarsely dice the lettuce leaves.
These are the typical vegetables used in bún bowls. But I love to change it up or add vegetables to this.
Considering that noodles and the protein tend to be soft in texture, you want vegetables that have a nice crunch in your mouth. So, I love adding julienned bell peppers (paprika) and radishes to this dish. These have mild enough flavours that are additive to the dish in color and texture.
Some other produce topping ideas are grape tomatoes, corn, and red cabbage. Feel free to make it your own style by breaking out of the traditional.
Step 5: Place the ingredients in a bowl.
Now for the finale - plating. Or rather, bowling. Er, put it in a bowl.
If you have pasta bowls, you know the wide but shallow bowls, those are ideal for this dish. If not, any bowl will do. Why a bowl you ask?
You can always use a plate, of course. But it's like with a salad and its dressing; bowls are easier to eat out of instead of chasing your food as it constantly slips across a plate.
Keep in mind, we're still adding the sauce to this dish so it's going to be a slippery one.
Start off with the noodles on the bottom of the bowl, Then, add the lettuce and remaining vegetables. Top it with the protein of your choice (pork, beef, chicken, or tofu).
Step 6: Toss with Sauce.
Finally, add the fish sauce to taste. Do not - I repeat - do not pour the fish sauce all over your dish. You may find your noodles tasting like the ocean, in that case. Instead, add the sauce one teaspoonful at a time until the flavour is to your liking.
And don't forget the garnishes - lemon juice, mint, and cilantro.