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Nhem Khao, Laotian crisp rice salad

There seems to be a soft spot in most Australian stomachs for a decent Thai meal. I’d be surprised if anyone didn’t know what a pad thai or jungle curry was, there seems to be a Thai restaurant in every food court or main shopping strip in Australia.

Where I grew up in South Western Sydney, Thai restaurants were often opened up as mash ups between Lao and Thai cuisine. You’d be hard pressed to find a pad thai or jungle curry and if you did, it wasn’t the ‘franchise’ dish of the restaurant with the regulars.

One of my favourite Lao dishes would have to be nam khao, also known as a Laotian crispy rice salad. You’d be hard pressed to find a dish which has so many textures and contrasting flavours, from the crisp rice balls to saltiness to sweetness to sourness, this dish has it all.

So, what forms the crux of this dish? Its mainly these two:

  • deep-fried rice balls
  • chunks of Laotian-style fermented pork sausage called som moo

and then a combination, but not limited to these:

  • chopped peanuts
  • grated coconut
  • sliced scallions
  • shallots
  • mint
  • coriander
  • lime juice
  • fish sauce

How to eat?

We generally eat nam khao with an array of fresh herbs wrapped up in either cabbage or lettuce. Its an awesome combination especially with the cabbage. The thing I love about Laos food is the textures, they are the masters of contrasting textures.

I love food which involves wrapping and dipping, it’s no surprise that I love tortillas, tacos and Vietnamese wraps equally.

Nam Khao recipe (Crisp Laotian rice salad)

Ingredients (adapted from http://laocook.com/2009/04/12/nhem/ and also Stella, Linda’s brothers girlfriend!)

Serves 5-6

For the rice balls

  • 350ml Coconut Milk*
  • 60g Red Curry Paste
  • 1/2 kg Cooked White Rice
  • 1/2 kg Cooked sticky rice
  • 80g Grated Coconut
  • 15g Sugar
  • Pinch of Salt
  • Corn Starch for dusting
  • 3 Eggs, beaten
  • Oil for Deep Frying

For the rest

  • Half to whole Som Moo (Fermented Pork) * You can get this at most Thai grocery stores. In Fairfield/Cabramatta/Canley most Asian grocery stores also stock them.
  • 100g Sliced Shallots
  • 1 lime
  • Approx 50ml Fish Sauce
  • Chopped Coriander (Cilantro)
  • Chopped Mint
  • Dried Chillies
  • Crushed roasted Peanuts

Method

  1. Mix the Coconut Milk in a large bowl with the Red Curry Paste, Sugar, Salt and Grated Coconut.
  2. Add the Rice, continuing to mix well, making sure that all the liquid is absorbed in to the Rice. Form balls, the size of golf Balls, making sure that you pack them tightly as this will stop them from breaking up whilst frying.
  3. Dip the Rice Balls in to the Beaten Eggs then dredge in the Corn Starch.
  4. Deep fry until golden brown then allow to cool a little.
  5. Carefully crack open the balls and scoop out the Rice in to a clean bowl breaking up the crust as you go along. Reserve some of the crust for frying later.
  6. Give the rice a gentle stir and allow to come to room temperature.
  7. Add the chopped Som Moo and Shallots, season with the Fish Sauce and Lime Juice to taste (some people add a little Sugar).
  8. Add the Coriander (Cilantro) and Mint then lightly mix.
  9. Return the reserved crusts to the deep fryer and fry until crispy and brown, drain on paper towels.
  10. Once the crust are warm enough to handle crumble them on to the Rice mixture (we save a little to serve on the side, which everyone loves), add the Peanuts then lightly toss, garnish with the Dried Chillies and enjoy immediately with some crispy Lettuce or Betel Leaves.

Note: The main difference in our adapted recipe is the use of sticky rice, it makes a difference!

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