"Unrolled" Summer Roll

Makes 4 servings
Time: 20 minutes, with prepared ingredients

1/4 cup fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc mam)
1 tablespoon sugar, or more to taste
1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon Vietnamese chili-garlic paste, or to taste, or chopped fresh chiles to taste
Salt and black pepper to taste

4 to 6 cups lettuce, washed, dried, and torn or chopped
1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked rice noodles (see sidebar)
1/2 cup shredded peeled carrots
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, left whole or barely torn
1/4 cup fresh Thai (or other) basil leaves, left whole or barely torn
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, left whole or barely torn
12 small slices cooked pork or 12 poached or grilled shrimp, split lengthwise in half
Scallion Oil (optional, recipe follows)

1. First, make the dressing: In a small bowl, combine the fish sauce, sugar, ginger, and chili-garlic paste with about 1/4 cup water, to produce a thin sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding salt and black pepper if necessary.

2. Divide the lettuce among 4 plates. Top each with a quarter of the noodles, carrots, herbs, and pork or shrimp. Drizzle the dressing over all, and, if you like, top with Scallion Oil.

Scallion Oil

As Charles Phan says, "Vietnamese food can be so lean that sometimes you need a little added fat." This will do just the trick, for Vietnamese food and beyond, adding richness and great flavor to salads and stirfries. It'll keep a day or two, refrigerated, but is best eaten soon after being made.

1/4 cup neutral oil, like corn or canola
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 or 3 scallions, trimmed and minced

1. Put the scallions in a small bowl; stir in the salt and sugar.

2. Heat the oil in a small pan until it is thin and fragrant. Pour the oil over the scallions; they should sizzle (if they do not, the oil wasn't hot enough). Cool and use by the spoonful.