From: Chef Gail Simmons, “Top Chef” judge. Yield: 4 servings.
1 shallot, thinly sliced and separated into rings
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1½ tsp. salt, divided
8 oz. vermicelli rice noodles
4¼ cups bottled unsweetened iced tea, divided
4 cups water
1 lemongrass stalk, peeled and trimmed into two 2-3” pieces (one half of pieces bruised using the back of a knife, one half finely chopped)
¼ cup cilantro leaves, 10 stems reserved
2” piece of fresh ginger, half sliced, half finely chopped
2 small Thai chiles, stemmed, seeded and chopped, or ½ tsp. chili flakes
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. fish sauce
2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
1 cucumber, cut into matchsticks or shredded lengthwise on a mandoline
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks or shredded lengthwise on a mandoline
6 radishes, cut into matchsticks or shredded on a mandoline
¼ cup mint, coarsely chopped
¼ cup dry-roasted peanuts, crushed
1 lb. cooked shrimp or shredded rotisserie chicken, optional
Heat canola oil in a medium sauté pan until just before smoking. In a shallow bowl, toss shallots with flour, shaking off any excess. Fry shallots in oil, stirring gently until golden, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer shallots to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Season immediately with ½ tsp. salt.
In a large saucepan, combine 4 cups iced tea, water, bruised lemongrass, sliced ginger, 10 cilantro stems and remaining teaspoon salt and bring to a boil. Add rice noodles and cook until just tender, about 7 minutes. Drain and rinse thoroughly under cold water until chilled. Shake out any excess water and spread noodles on a paper towel-lined tray.
For dressing: Combine reserved lemongrass, reserved ginger, chiles, soy sauce, fish sauce, lime juice, brown sugar and remaining ¼ cup iced tea in a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth.
Place noodles, cucumbers, carrots, radishes, mint, cilantro leaves and chicken or shrimp (if desired) in a large bowl. Add dressing to taste and toss well. Garnish with fried shallots and crushed peanuts before serving.
Note: Any remaining dressing can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week and used on meat, fish and salads.