Put time into dinner now, and you can make it last forever -- or at least the whole week. Welcome to Halfway to Dinner, where we show you how to stretch your staples -- or your seasonal produce -- every which way.
Fish sauce is definitely what I reach for whenever I want to add a roundhouse kick of umami deliciousness to my dishes. Its name (I mean, really -- fish sauce?!) can be a little off-putting, but its rich saltiness is unbeatable. I always keep a bottle in my fridge.
Depending on the amount you're using, fish sauce can be either subtle or aggressive. Add it to a dipping sauce or drizzle it straight from the bottle -- whatever you do with fish sauce, it's pretty much guaranteed to make your dishes much more flavorful.
Oven-Roasted Fish Sauce Sprouts
I am addicted to oven-roasted vegetables, but especially oven-roasted sprouts. The extreme heat of the oven alone mellows, chars, and caramelizes the brussels sprouts, but it's a quick toss in fish sauce that really takes this dish over the edge. While this recipe is intended as a side, I've been known to just make myself a big bowl and call it dinner.
More: Sprouts for dinner not enough? Try them for breakfast, too.
Fish Sauce Vinaigrette
This recipe is for my mother-in-law's nước mắm pha (mixed fish sauce). It's the dipping sauce that she keeps on hand in the fridge as a sauce for summer and spring rolls and to flavor rice dishes and vermicelli bowls. According to her, this sauce is all about the order in which you add the ingredients. I'm not sure if it makes a difference or not, but it's so delicious as is that I don't dare to deviate. If you want to follow along, I've shared the exact proportions and directions, too.
Basically, you'll smash the garlic, a bird's eye chili, and some sugar together with a mortar and pestle until the garlic and chili are crushed into a paste. Then, you'll mix this into water and add lime juice and fish sauce. Mix until combined, then keep the sauce in the fridge until you're ready to use it. Make this the day before if you can -- the flavors will meld overnight.
Lemongrass Pork Meatball Quinoa Bowl
The fish sauce in this recipe is used twice: First in the seasoning for the lemongrass meatballs and again in the dressing for the salad bowl. It's a hearty, refreshing, and completely customizable meal; use noodles or rice instead of quinoa if that's what you have on hand.
Vietnamese Steak and Vermicelli Bowl
I love playing around with Vietnamese vermicelli bowls. Most vermicelli bowls consist of a protein, vermicelli, lettuce, and herbs. Here, I used steak and avocado, which isn't the least bit traditional. But that's the fun of cooking! Feel free to top your vermicelli bowl with your favorite protein and herbs -- the fish sauce vinaigrette will tie everything together.
Spot Prawns with Lime and Cilantro
Prawns and fish sauce go hand-in-hand -- there's something about seafood with extra seafood flavor on top. A bit of sweetness, tart lime, and fresh cilantro round out a dish that will make you feel like it's summer even in the middle of fall.
Caramelized Pork Tacos
I find that Vietnamese and Mexican food share a love for big, fresh flavors, and that makes them a natural pair. Here, the ever-popular Vietnamese home-style caramelized pork is tucked into warm tortillas and topped with pineapples à la tacos al pastor.
Makes about 1 cup
1 clove garlic
1 bird's eye chili
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
Juice of 1/2 lime
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons fish sauce
All photos by Stephanie Le