While Vietnamese food may you may think of heaping bowls of beef bone soup, grilled meats and plenty of fish, the vegetarian options in this culinary-obsessed nation are some of the best you’ll find in the world. Explore the plant-based side of this beloved cuisine and make this turmeric tofu with dill and rice noodles.
Before my initial visit to Hà Nội over a decade ago, I had read about this dish and was intrigued by the abundant use of fragrant herbs. When I arrived in the city, I walked along the thirty-six streets that make up Hà Nội’s Old Quarter, quickly realizing that each street is named for those goods or foods in which the shopkeepers on that street specialize. Chả Cá Street, for example, is named for this fish dish, made popular by the family that has run Chả Cá La Vong Restaurant for generations. It’s heavy with both scallion and dill.
Walking into the restaurant that day, I was greeted first by those aromas: first onions, then herbs. It’s so good that I’ve adapted the recipe to use tofu and a vegan version of nước chấm, the traditional clear dipping sauce, in place of the fish and fish sauce in the original dish.
Everyday Table Sauce
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 fresh red Thai bird chile, finely chopped or thinly sliced
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 1 small head Bibb lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
- 3/4 cup thai basil leaves
- 1/2 pound dried rice vermicelli noodles
- 1 to 1 1/2 pounds firm tofu
- 1/2 cup rice flour
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 3 cups scallions (2 bunches), cut into 1-inch lengths
- 2 cups (large bunch) roughly chopped stemmed fresh dill
- 1/2 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts, roughly chopped
- Soy sauce (optional)
For the sauce
Put the sugar, water, rice vinegar, soy sauce, lime juice, and salt into a bowl. Stir until the sugar is fully dissolved. Add and mix in the chile and garlic. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. Let the sauce sit for 10 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to intermingle.
Serve in one medium bowl with a spoon so guests can drizzle some extra sauce into their spring rolls following their initial bite. Or double the recipe and serve in small individual bowls.
For the tofu
Mix the lettuce, basil and cilantro together in a serving bowl or on a large plate.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop in the noodles and use chopsticks or tongs to untangle and loosen. Boil until tender, 3 to 5 minutes, then drain and immediately flush with cold water. Gently squeeze four to five times to get rid of any excess water. Set aside on two medium plates, loosely covered with a clean kitchen towel.
Cut the block of tofu into ½-inch-thick rectangles. Then cut each block into smaller rectangles about 1½ inches by 2 inches. Mix the rice flour, turmeric and salt in a large bowl. Add the tofu, toss to coat lightly, and transfer to a plate.
Heat the oil in a wok or 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Carefully place some tofu in the oil and fry until each side is crispy and golden, 3 to 4 minutes per side. You may need to cook the tofu in two batches. Transfer briefly to a paper-towel-lined plate and arrange on a serving platter. Carefully pour out most of the oil, leaving 1 tablespoon. Reheat the oil over medium-high heat. Stir-fry the scallions for about 1 minute before tossing in the dill. Stir-fry for another 30 seconds and arrange nicely over the tofu. Sprinkle the peanuts on top.
To eat, each diner puts some noodles in a bowl and some dilled tofu on top. They can add some of the lettuce and herbs and then a good drizzle of the table sauce. Toss together before eating. Add a splash of soy sauce for extra seasoning, if desired.