This recipe for vegan thit nuong is a quick and easy one that is made with soy curls, one of my favourite chicken substitutes around! You can try this marinade with seitan, tofu, or even premade vegan chicken slices! My mom would make bowls like this whenever it was hot and especially after a big family gathering where (particularly if) spring rolls survived the hoards of my family eating them. Layered with so much fresh veg and coated in my favourite nuoc mam cham sauce, the sweet and salty sauce perfectly married these different ingredients together to become a texture symphony of savoury bites with the occasional crispy caramelized edge, crunchy spring rolls, crisp lettuce and cucumber, and chewy, chilled noodles.
It’s never NOT a good time.
The marinade is pretty simple, and can be used for a variety of foods (as mentioned). The base of the umami flavour is the vegan fish sauce, but if you can’t find that, you can use soy sauce instead (but omit the salt I add in the end). You can play pretty fast and loose with the ingredient amounts too, if you understand how you like the balance of sweet and salty. Getting my mom to describe the amounts she used for this was pretty rough (“Use…a spoon of that… maybe two spoons of this” …mom what is a SPOON.) But learning how to cook from my mom is a lesson in understanding cooking fundamentals and flavour. Each household will have a different balance of these ingredients depending on how whoever is preparing it likes it. More crispy sweetness? More sugar. More juiciness? More oil and aromatics. More salt? More fish sauce and salt!
Sugar is essential to create that sweet, caramelized texture, and you don’t realize how crucial the sugar is until when you try making it with less sugar (as I did), it lacks that unique caramelized flavour that I didn’t even realize was part of this dish. The dark soy sauce gives the dish colour and a deep undercurrent of flavour, while you add garlic and onion to anchor the dish.
I baked this recipe, but a lot of times you’ll see this grilled. I remember my mom baking large pans of meat with this marinade and it was pretty epic too. Soy curls are a bit difficult to grill, and to get the caramelized top, you can accelerate by broiling it for 3-5 minutes until the tops are crisp, but I frequently burn things so I tend to just bake until caramelized, stirring to space out the soy curls and introduce them to the hot air in the oven.
For the Grilled "chicken":
- 110 g (4 oz) dry soy curls or TVP, this is about half a bag of soy curls
- 1/2 medium onion, diced (traditionally would be 1 shallot, diced)
- 3 tbsp (37.5 g) sugar
- 2 tbsp vegan fish sauce (can substitute for soy sauce if you can't find it)
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 tsp dark soy sauce (this is different from regular soy sauce, its for flavour and colour)
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt (omit this if you're adding soy sauce instead of vegan fish sauce)
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
For the bowl:
- Rice vermicelli noodles, cooked and drained (rinse well to get rid of any starch)
- Pickled carrots and daikon
- Fried vegan spring rolls
- Vegan nuoc mam cham (sauce)
- Sliced cucumber (about 1/3 cup per bowl)
- Shredded green lettuce (about 1 cup per bowl)
- Different Vietnamese herbs like perilla leaves or balm (kinh goi)
- Crushed roasted peanuts
- Preheat your oven to 375F.
- Reconstitute your soy curls or tvp by soaking them in hot water (or broth for more flavour!) for 10 minutes, then squeeze out as much excess liquid as you can. Set aside.
- In a wide casserole dish (I suggest using a wider one than what I used), combine diced onion, sugar, vegan fish sauce, garlic, vegetable oil, dark soy sauce, and salt. Mix well to combine, and toss the rehydrated soy curls into it and ensure the soy curls are nicely coated. You can let this sit for half an hour to an hour to marinate, but you can also just go ahead and bake.
- Bake for 15 minutes covered, then remove the lid, give it a stir, then bake for another 15-20 minutes. It'll be ready once you see some darker, caramelized edges on the soy curls. You can bake until its dryer, or keep it kind of moist, totally your preference! You're going to cover in sauce anyway. Remove from oven and assemble your bowl!