This is a vegetarian adaptation of nuoc cham, the Vietnamese sweet fish sauce dressing, which seems to be used with just about every Vietnamese dish, at least those which we get in the states.
Fish sauce is a liquid drained from fish that are salted and left in a jug in the sun to ferment. I have heard that kosher fish sauce is available, but I have checked lots of places in the capital of the Jewish diaspora (the Upper West Side) and haven't found it yet. So, I am dubious that such a thing exists, though I will have to try Jersey and Brooklyn. Although fish sauce is said to be made from anchovies, which have fins and scales and are therefore are kosher, without supervision who cares about this, it is possible that any given sauce contains treyfe fish. (The use of fish flavorings along with meat is of no concern to me. For more on this, see my posting on lamb shank ragu and the umami problem.) It also presents a problem for vegetarians, including my daughter.
As as substitute for fish sauce, I use Bragg's aminos, which tastes like a wonderful aged soy sauce with lots of umami undertones. I also sometimes wonder what Google is up to. I push this product so much you would think that they would take out an ad on one of my pages. You could also use an expensive aged soy sauce. I find that Bragg's makes the best substitute, not quite the same, but not bad at all:
- 1/2 cup Bragg's aminos (substitute fish sauce or a wonderful aged soy sauce if you wish)
- 3 cloves smashed garlic
- juice of two limes
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- on chopped green or red chili (bird or serrano) -- optional, remove ribs and seeds if you don't want it so hot
- 1/2 cup water
- 3 tablespoons peanut or canola oil
- Smash the garlic with the side of a broad sharp knife or cleaver. Sprinkle with 1 spoon of sugar and set aside for a minute.
- Chop, smash, and crush the garlic and sugar until you have a puree. Put it in a jar or small pitcher.
- Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.
- The quantities are approximate and can be adjusted to your taste.