Why It Works
- Cooking the shrimp and ground pork in stages in the same pot of water used for the noodles is efficient, convenient, and helps add flavor to the noodles.
- Residual heat from cooking the proteins and noodles helps tame the raw edge of the dressing.
- Glass noodles act as a sponge, soaking up the bright, punchy dressing.
- Shallots, tomatoes, Chinese celery, and roasted peanuts provide a refreshing crunch to the salad.
In Thai cuisine, noodles are generally enjoyed as a single-serving, stand-alone meal. Favorites like pad see ew and pad thai usually aren’t shared or included as part of a larger spread. As Pailin Chongchitnant wrote in her article describing how to construct a balanced Thai meal, noodles are the “sandwiches of Thai cuisine.” One notable exception to this rule is yam woon sen, a glass noodle salad that features shrimp, ground pork, fresh herbs, roasted peanuts, and a punchy dressing. It’s a dish that works equally well as a solo act for a light lunch, or as part of a full feast ensemble.
Yam (pronounced “yahm”) salads, such as yam khai dao, are characterized by a bright, balanced dressing that contains the “primary” flavors commonly associated with Thai cooking—spicy, sour, salty, and sweet—in the form of fresh chiles, lime juice, fish sauce, and sugar. For yam woon sen, I like to add garlic and coriander roots to the dressing, which I pound into a paste with fresh chiles in a mortar and pestle, before adding the sugar, fish sauce, and lime juice. The aromatics add a refreshing sharp bite, as well as some body, which will help the dressing coat the slippery glass noodles in the salad.
In Thailand, glass noodles, known as woon sen, are made from mung bean starch and are typically sold in single-serving bundles. Depending on the brand, glass noodles can be labeled as cellophane noodles, mung bean threads, mung bean noodles, bean vermicelli, bean threads, green bean threads, or broad bean threads. For this recipe, look for a Thai brand with mung bean starch as the only listed ingredient. Preparing the noodles is a breeze: you briefly rehydrate them in cool water until they become pliable, and then boil them until they swell and turn translucent.
Poaching the shrimp and pork ensures that the proteins are gently cooked, keeping them both tender and giving them a very clean flavor profile. I then like to cook the noodles in the same cooking water as the shrimp and ground pork, to streamline the process and maximize flavor. Once everything is cooked, I toss the three together with the prepared dressing, which allows the warm noodles to soak it up while also tempering its raw allium bite. Sliced tomato, Chinese celery, and shallots add a fresh vegetal note, and roasted peanuts lend crunch and fattiness to the salad. Serve it as a weeknight meal or as part of a more ambitious Thai spread. Either way, yam woon sen is always a crowd-pleaser.
- For the Dressing:
- 3 cilantro roots (10g), cleaned (see note)
- 2 fresh red Thai chiles, stemmed (see note)
- 1 small garlic clove (4g), peeled
- Kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons (20g) sugar
- 1/4 cup (60ml) fresh lime juice from 2 to 3 limes
- 1/4 cup (60ml) fish sauce
- For the Salad:
- 2.8 ounces (80g) Thai mung bean glass noodles (see note)
- 8 large shrimp (about 5 ounces; 140g) peeled and deveined
- 3.5 ounces (100g) ground pork
- 3 fresh red Thai chiles, stemmed and thinly sliced into rounds (see note)
- 1 plum tomato (about 150g), cored, seeded, and cut lengthwise into 1/4 inch-wide strips
- 1 medium shallot (50g), thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons (40g) roasted unsalted peanuts, roughly chopped
- 3 sprigs fresh cilantro including tender stems (5g), cut into 1-inch pieces
- 5 sprigs (10g) Chinese celery including tender stems, cut into 1-inch pieces, or 1 small celery rib, thinly sliced (see note)
For the Dressing: In a granite mortar and pestle, combine cilantro roots, chiles, garlic, and a pinch of salt, and pound into a fine paste, about 2 minutes. Add sugar and work pestle in a circular motion against mortar until sugar is fully dissolved, about 1 minute. Add lime juice and fish sauce and stir to thoroughly combine. Transfer dressing to a large bowl and set aside.
For the Salad: Place glass noodles in a medium bowl and cover with room temperature water. Allow noodles to hydrate until pliable, about 10 minutes. Drain, and set aside.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring 1 cup (240ml) lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Add shrimp, stir to ensure they are fully submerged, and then remove from heat. Allow shrimp to poach, undisturbed, until they change color and are just cooked through, about 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, immediately transfer shrimp to bowl with dressing, leaving poaching water in saucepan.
Return water to a boil over high heat and add pork. Cook, using a spoon to stir and break up any large clumps of meat, until cooked through, about 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, immediately transfer to bowl with dressing.
Return water to a boil over high heat, add glass noodles and more water as needed until noodles are submerged. Cook, stirring frequently until noodles swell and become translucent, about 2 minutes. Using a fine-mesh strainer, drain noodles, shaking strainer to get rid of excess moisture, and transfer to bowl with dressing.
Using a large spoon or tongs, toss noodles, shrimp, and pork with dressing until evenly coated. Add sliced chiles, tomato, shallot, and half of the peanuts and continue to toss until well combined and most of the dressing has been absorbed by the noodles. Add cilantro and Chinese celery and toss to combine. Transfer to a large serving platter or divide between individual serving plates, sprinkle with remaining peanuts, and serve.
Granite mortar and pestle, fine-mesh strainer.
The roots of fresh coriander (a.k.a. cilantro) provide a slight herbal note to curry pastes, but are unfortunately hard to find in the US, as they are often cut off from the stems before going to market (though local farmers markets in the summer and fall often have coriander with the roots still attached). Coriander roots can also be found at Southeast Asian markets. If you cannot find coriander roots, substitute with stems from 10 sprigs of fresh cilantro, cut into 1-inch pieces, or omit entirely.
You can adjust the spiciness of this salad to suit your taste by reducing or increasing the amount of fresh Thai chiles in the dressing and in the salad.
Glass noodles can be found in Southeast Asian markets and online. They are often labeled as cellophane noodles, mung bean threads, mung bean noodles, bean vermicelli, bean threads, green bean thread, or broad bean threads. For this recipe, seek out a Thai brand that lists mung bean starch as the only ingredient, with noodles portioned into 1.4-ounce (40g) bundles. They will keep indefinitely in your pantry.
Make-Ahead and Storage
The glass noodles can be hydrated up to 1 day in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container. The finished salad is best enjoyed immediately.