1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup nuoc mam
4 shallots, thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
8 ounces thin rice vermicelli
1 pound boneless pork loin
1 pound ground beef (chuck)
8 garlic cloves, minced
24 bamboo skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes (use metal skewers if broiling)
2 small garlic cloves, crushed
1 small fresh red chile, seeded and minced
2 tablespoons fresh lime or lemon juice
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 large head leaf lettuce, separated into individual leaves
1 bunch scallions, cut into 2-inch lengths
1 cup each of cilantro, mint leaves, and fresh Asian or regular basil leaves
1 cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, and sliced thinly crosswise
4 ounces fresh bean sprouts
To make caramel sauce, cook 1/3 cup sugar in small heavy saucepan over low heat, swirling pan constantly, until brown (it will smoke slightly). Immediately remove pan from heat and stir in 1/4 cup nuoc mam, guarding against splattering (mixture will bubble vigorously). Return to low heat and gently boil, swirling pan occasionally, until sugar is completely dissolved, about 3 minutes. Stir in shallots and black pepper. Set aside, and allow to cool thoroughly before using.
Cook vermicelli (see directions in spring-roll recipe). Cut pork loin against grain into 1/4-inch slices, about 2 inches long. Place pork and beef into separate bowls. Add minced garlic and half of caramel sauce to beef; add remaining caramel sauce to pork. Blend each mixture separately by hand until well combined. Let stand for 30 minutes.
Prepare charcoal grill or preheat broiler. Shape beef into 24 meatballs; lightly press into 1 1/2-inch patties. Skewer beef and pork separately (4 pieces per skewer) so they lie flat. Place port skewers on grill, or on baking sheet lined with foil under broiler, about 6 inches from heat. Cook 10 to 15 minutes, until browned and crispy. Turn skewers. Add beef skewers and cook 5 minutes. Turn beef skewers and cook about 5 minutes, until browned.
To make nuoc cham for dipping, combine crushed garlic, chile, juice, vinegar, and remaining nuoc mam in blender or food processor, and process for 30 seconds or until sugar dissolves. Pour into individual dipping bowls.
Serve vermicelli and remaining ingredients on platters. Diners roll a few pieces of meat in lettuce leaf with small amount each of herbs, vegetables, and noodles and dip rolls in nuoc cham.
Domain a supplement to the March 1990 issue of Texas Monthly.