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.