Saturday, January 26, 2019

The Quest for Pho, Winter Blues, and the perfect Lemongrass Pork Vermicelli Bowl

Winter torments me.  The grey.  The gloom.  The relentless mud.  Fortunately, the wood stove has been cranking and our sweet old farmhouse is warm and toasty.  My daily Tale of Woe and Lamentation must sorely try The Farmer's temper, but he simply reminds me that the Red Buds will be blooming before I know it.  He is right, of course, and I endeavor to enjoy what the season does bring to me...a brilliant flash of green moss growing on an rundown wood shed, new farm babies, our quiet babbling creek turned into a powerful force of nature, and winter sunsets that take my breath away.

Our 1894 homestead has neither central heat, nor air conditioning, so I  have learned the importance of working with the seasons rather than railing against them. It hasn't always been easy... our early summers on the farm were ridiculous...I spent my days bent over boiling canning pots, frantically trying to preserve all of the harvest.  It was 95 degrees outside and the temperature inside was over 120 degrees....Insanity.  The Farmer was miserable.  The Farm Hands were miserable. The dogs were miserable. I was beyond miserable.   Now, many of Summer's fresh fruits and veggies are frozen...tucked away until Winter.  The warmth generated by fast boiling canning pots and the heat of the oven are a welcome blessing when the outside temperatures are bitter cold!  Bonus: our Rosie Belle Farm CSA members get to enjoy a flavorful burst of Summer during those long winter months.

Farm Life is mostly perfect for us.  The stewardship of the land and the animals that inhabit it is our greatest joy.  This is not to say that we have not suffered and suffered plenty.  To wit:  There is no Pho in this part of the world.  No one has ever heard of it.  We live in a true Restaurant Desert...  the culinary highlights of the thirty minute trek into town are a Kentucky Fried Chicken and a McDonald's.   Winter with limited access to Pho has been very difficult, yet we have bravely soldiered on.

Until.......THE BEST DAY EVER!

The Farmer and I were in the old pick up truck searching for ChaffHaye...a specialty feed for our dairy animals.  The goats and cows can grow thin throughout the winter months.  The hay and grain that we provide is simply not as nourishing as the beautiful lush grass available for most of the year.  A farmer friend mentioned that their cows were doing well with ChaffHaye, a Non GMO fresh chopped bagged forage that captures the characteristics of pasture with added nutrients.  The product is not sold in our town so we set out to find some in a feed store several towns away.  While driving through the little town of Ardmore, Alabama, The Farmer and I gasped when we noticed a small sign in front of a gas station that stopped us short...It appeared to advertise PHO!

Could it be?  I dared not even hope....

He turned around and drove past it again.  The sign advertised Gas Station Vietnamese Take Out....Hmmmm.   We were giddy with the possibility.  Dare we try it?  The thought was at once thrilling and terrifying, but we knew we had to take a chance.  Success!!!   The gas station has become our favorite local restaurant and the proprietors have made Winter slightly less horrible.  The Lord does indeed work miracles.


Truly, Vietnamese Cuisine is one of my very favorites and Bun Bowls are satisfying year round.  Our CSA offerings in January included a beautiful Pork Loin Roast so I thought it timely to share my favorite recipe for Vermicelli (Bun) Bowls.  There are three main components to the meal:  Marinating the meat, pickling the veggies, and making the Nuoc Cham Sauce.  Once those tasks (which can be done several days ahead of time) are completed, the dish comes together in a flash.  Frankly, we keep Nuoc Cham and Pickled Carrots/Daikon in the fridge as staples, so this meal is truly "fast food."

*3/4 cup finely chopped lemongrass
*1/4 cup chopped garlic
*3 Tablespoons kosher salt
*1 1/2 Tablespoons coriander seeds,  
    toasted in a dry pan until fragrant
*1 1/2 Tablespoons black peppercorns
*1/2 cup of canola oil

Throw everything into a blender until it makes a uniform paste.

I used a beautiful three pound boneless Rosie Belle Farm Pork Loin Roast.  The recipe can be used to make a delicious banh mi sandwich if you choose.  I opted for the noodle bowl this time around!

Put the Roast on a cutting board and, starting at the top, begin to cut into the pork horizontally at the "halfway" point.  Your intention is to ultimately slice the Loin ALMOST in half so that it can be opened like a book, with the left and right sides being equal.  Think of opening a 100 page book to page 50, so that both sides are the same thickness.

Take half of the marinade and rub it generously on the "open" surface and then roll the pork into a tight cylinder.  Rub the remaining marinade on the outside of the meat and secure the roll with butchers twine.  (Kitchen Hack: I was out of twine and found that plain cotton embroidery floss served in a pinch).

Put the Roast in a plastic bag and put it in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours.  I let my roast marinate for two days.


This will make more than you need for one meal, but we keep these pickles on hand to dress up salads and sandwiches.

*1 cup white vinegar
*1 cup white sugar
*1 teaspoon kosher salt
*2-3 cups of carrots, daikon radish, or a combination of the two, julienned.

I use this peeler, which does all the hard work.  It is less than $8 and you will never believe that you have lived without it for all of these years.

Combine the vinegar, sugar and salt.  Stir until the sugar and salt dissolve.  Add the veggies and let them sit for at least thirty minutes so the flavors blend.  The pickled veggies will last several weeks in the refrigerator.   Drain before serving.

This Vietnamese "salad dressing" is the veritable Key to the Kingdom.  I cannot say enough about this sauce.  Great on salads, wonderful over rice, it is as delicious as it is beautiful.

*1 cup fish sauce
*2/3 cup white sugar
*1/2 cup lemon juice
*1 cup water
*4 cloves of chopped garlic
*2 Thai bird's eye chilis, chopped
*1 jalapeno, chopped

Combine the first four ingredients and stir until sugar and salt dissolve.  Add the garlic and the peppers.  Let the sauce sit for thirty minutes so that the flavors blend.  I find that this sauce keeps well for several weeks in the fridge.


Bring the marinated pork to room temperature, preheat the  oven to 325 degrees and gather your ingredients:

Meat Thermometer
Marinated Pork Loin
Dried Rice Vermicelli, 1 pound
Shredded Lettuce
Chopped Peanuts
Fresh Cilantro
Fresh Mint
Pickled Carrots/Daikon
Nuoc Cham Sauce

Meat roasted with the aid of a meat thermometer is generally better tasting, at least in my house.  Every oven is different and my ovens tend to run hot.  There is temperature variance between the top and bottom racks and even from the front of the oven to the back of the oven.  A good thermometer takes out the guess work.  You can find the one I use on Amazon.  Roast the pork at 325 degrees on a rack placed in the middle of the oven.  Set your timer for 40 minutes and then pop in the thermometer.  Pork is generally cooked to 140 degrees but in my experience, that is too much and your roast will be dry.  I remove it from the oven at 130 degrees as it will continue to cook for several minutes as it rests on the countertop.  When it is cool enough to handle, slice off enough meat for your meal and chop it into bite sized pieces.  Since we are only feeding two, there are plenty of leftovers.   It freezes well and will come back to our table in the form of Banh Mi as well as Spring Rolls!

Prepare the vermicelli while the pork is resting.  I use an instant kettle to boil water in about a minute.  Put the vermicelli in a bowl and pour the boiling water over the noodles.  They are ready in less than five minutes.  Drain the water.

During the summer months I serve this meal at room temperature, so I would allow the meat and the noodles to cool completely before serving.  During the winter months I prefer to use hot meat and hot noodles.  It is not traditional, but I like the sensory juxtaposition.

Put the rice in a bowl and then add the rest!  Chopped lettuce, pickled veggies, chopped pork, peanuts, herbs and then drizzle with the dressing.  Dinner is served!

Food from our Farm to your Table!