A Lao crispy rice salad (Nam Khao) with crispy, chewy textures with a balance of sweet, tart, salty and spiciness.
If you have never had a Lao Crispy Rice Salad, it's unlike anything you've ever tasted before and you need to try it because my words just won't do it any justice. Crunchy, chewy rice with a well balanced tart, salty, spicy and sweet combination of toppings and fresh herbs. It's honestly something you absolutely must try once in your life.
Lao cuisine is quite rare around here and usually a hidden gem in the cuisine world, you might be familiar with it's flavours if you've had Thai or Vietnamese foods. I absolutely love this stuff, so you can imagine how pumped I am to create this recipe for everyone to try.
If you have never heard of Nam Khao, it is essentially fried rice balls broken up into bite sized pieces with a medley of fresh herbs, som moo (a fermented meat which I go into detail below), lime juice, fish sauce, hot sauce combined into a well balance of crunchy, chewy salty, sweet and tart salad. It's nothing I have ever tasted before and a recipe that I will continue to make.
With Nam Khao, the most tedious part of it would be the crispy rice bit, but you can make a lot of it ahead of time and it can sit in the fridge for 3-4 days if properly covered. Once you are ready to make it, just take the ingredients out and throw it together and you will have a very sophisticated salad in a span of 5 mins and I promise you it will be worth every minute.
For this Nam Khao recipe, most of these ingredients will be available at the Asian supermarket.
Som moo! Some what? Som moo is a fermented sausage that is made with raw pork meat, pig skin and is fermented with curing salts and nitrates. The texture is chewy, think rubber bands. It sounds weird but it's an very interesting mouth feel once you get used to it and it gives salads another dimension. The flavour is tart, salty, sweet, spicy and garlicky. Heavier on the tang side with a nice balance of sweet and very garlicky. This is also known as Nem Chua in Vietnamese cuisine.
If you can't find som moo, this can be omitted. Although you will lose a bit of the texture and the awesome flavours it adds.
Traditionally, this recipe uses jasmine rice but for this recipe, I use sticky rice because I love the texture of the chewiness combined with the crispiness. You can substitute sticky rice for jasmine or long grain rice. If you are not using the sticky rice, then you don't need to follow the steps below on steaming the rice and a regular rice cooker or pot will suffice.
Buying rice can be a daunting thing, there are many varieties out there and they all seem to look the same! When I buy sticky rice, I go for the ones that are called 'glutinous rice' or sometimes they are called 'sweet sticky rice' (don't worry it's not actually sweet!). Go for the ones made in Thailand and you'll never be steered wrong. 🙂
STEAMING THE RICE
The rice must be soaked ahead of time for a minimum of 4 hours.
For this recipe, I opted to put aside my steamer and try a different method that I learned from Food52. (Which by the way, is an absolutely wonderful food site with articles, recipes, a great community and lastly awesome tips and learnings.)
The article I tested was 'The Best Way to Make Thai Sticky Rice (No Fancy Basket Required)' by Leela Punyaratabandu. I used the #3 method: with a Colander.
Did it work? It most certainly did! (Minus the brain fart of me grabbing the handle sans towel or oven mitten. The handle is hot! Wear protective gear before moving or touching it!)
DEEP FRYING THE STICKY RICE BALLS
Once you have the rice cooked, combine it with the kaffir lime leaves, red curry paste, fish sauce, sugar, garlic, shallots, and egg and mix it well.
When you are rolling them into balls or ovals, they might come apart, that's perfectly normal.
I found putting a bit of oil on your hands help from it sticking to your palms.
If you are using non-sticky rice, I would work on it when it is slightly warm so the rice has an easier time sticking together. If you are using sticky rice, it can be worked on when the rice is cool since the rice gets stickier when it is cooler.
Deep fry them at 350F (176C) until they are golden brown. (Approximately 3 minutes)
ASSEMBLING THE SALAD
Here is the fun part! Toppings! The sky is the limit here. I have provided a few traditional toppings that I like to use but you can experiment and add what you think would taste amazing in it! The star of this salad is the crispy rice, so you really can't go wrong with flavour pairings!
For the dressing, I used Nuoc Cham, which is a simple and flavourful dressing made with fish sauce, sugar, vinegar/lime juice, garlic and chillis.
You can also use a watered down soy, lime juice with a bit of maple syrup as an alternative dressing as well.
Tip #1 : Serve this as a lettuce wrap to switch up your style of salad! A different and more fun way to eat this.
Looking for More Salad Recipes? Try These!
- Crispy Garlic Lemongrass Tofu Buddha Bowl
- Curtido (Salvadoran Pickled Cabbage Slaw)
- Watermelon Feta Salad
- Yum Woon Sen (Thai Glass Noodle Salad)
- Watermelon Feta Salad
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Lao Crispy Rice Salad (Nam Khao)
- Rice Balls can keep in the fridge in a well sealed container for 3-4 days. Use the rice balls cold to create the salad.
- 3 cups sticky glutinous rice (also called sweet sticky rice. soaked a minimum of 4 hours)
- 3 tablespoon Thai red curry paste
- 2 cloves garlic (minced)
- 1 shallot (minced)
- 3-4 kaffir lime leaves (sliced thinly, leaf spines removed)
- 4 teaspoons sugar
- 4 teaspoons fish sauce
- 1 egg
Nuoc Cham Dressing
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- ⅓ cup hot water
- 2 ½ tablespoons sugar
- ½ lime (juiced)
- 1 ½ tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1-2 cloves garlic (minced)
- 1 red birdseye chili (sliced)
- som moo (fermented meat sausage)
- fried onions
- toasted peanuts
- toasted rice powder (you can also make this yourself by toasting sticky rice grains and then blitzing it in a food processor or using mortar and pestle)
- shallots (sliced and soaked in cold water to remove the raw bite)
- green onions (chopped)
- birdseye chili peppers
- lime juice
Crispy Rice Balls
- Soak the sticky rice for a minimum of 4 hours. Drain water
- In a pot, bring water to a boil and pour the rice into a colander and set on top of the pot. Put the lid on and steam for 15 mins.
- After 15 minutes, turn the rice over in the colander so the other side can be steamed for 15 minutes. Steam rice until it is translucent. (Be careful, the colander is very hot!)
- Remove rice from the pot, put it into a bowl and cover with a towel for 15-30 minutes until warm and sticky.
- Add in the curry paste, lime leaves, garlic, shallot, sugar, fish sauce and egg and mix well.
- Set deep fryer to 350F (176C), or medium heat on a pot of oil on the stove.
- Create rice balls or oval patties with the rice mix. (Oil your hands so they don't stick to your hands)
- Deep fry them for 3 minutes or until golden brown.
- Set aside to cool.
Nuoc Cham Dressing
- Combine the sugar and the hot water first to melt it evenly into the water.
- Then add the remainder of the ingredients and put it in the fridge to cool
Putting the Salad Together
- Break up the rice balls and som moo and put into a bowl
- Add in the toppings and dressing and mix well
- Serve with lettuce leaves
- Eat with a spoon or wrapped in lettuce 🙂
*Nutritional information is calculated using online tools and is an estimate*
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Really tasty! I ran out of time to make a salad so I used a lettuce wrap for toasted peanuts and the rice balls! Everyone enjoyed it, but I'm excited to cook this again with a proper salad. The sauce is super tasty as well 🙂 Thank you for sharing this recipe!
Joyce Lee says
I'm so happy you liked it! The lettuce wrap is an awesome idea! I actually just eat the rice balls as-is sometimes! haha just dipping the sauce! heehee
This Dish is so colorful that it arouses me so decided to make it. I have never tried food mixed with tangy, crispy, sour, sweet..... Thank you.
Joyce Lee says
Yes! The best part of this dish is how the flavors of sour, sweet, and salty mingle so well with the crispy texture of the rice! Hope you liked it!
I wonder if you can air fry the balls?
Joyce Lee says
I have never tried this in an air fryer but I'm curious to see if you can as well! If I was to use an air fryer, I would probably spray each rice ball with oil until it is well coated and then put them in the air fryer.
I finally got my wife to try this at my favorite lao restaurant while I ate the papaya salad! She loves it with Tofu...How do you substitute the pork for tofu. fry it the same way?
I have never tried it with tofu before but if I was to try, I would use firm tofu cut into 1/2 inch cubes and maybe fry it on a frying pan with a bit of oil so that it's crispy and maybe toss it with little lime juice and soy sauce at the very end to coat it with a bit of flavor! Then when you assemble the salad, I would just add the tofu bits in with the rice and herbs! It won't be the exact substitute since the fermented pork is springy and sour but I think that can still be very tasty. 🙂
I love this stuff, I'm so happy your wife got to try it and loves it too! It's such a underrated unknown dish that needs more exposure! 😀
I recently became obsessed with this rice after eating it at a Laotian restaurant. I really didn't want to go through all the trouble of properly making it with the exact ingredients. So, I grabbed some leftover Chinese fried rice, threw in red curry paste, green onion, sugar, salt, garlic, red pepper flakes and fresh squeezed lime juice and fried it loose so the bottom got crispy. Took it off the heat and added salt and crushed peanuts and a little more lime juice. Used green leaf lettuce to make wraps. Allllmost as delicious as my favorite Laotian restaurant. I'm a vegetarian so the pork thing already wasn't needed. This was a great and easy way to satisfy my craving even if it's not very authentic or proper. I guess the secret is in that red curry paste.
Aii! You are SO awesome Meenah!! 🙂 I also love this stuff and it's so great to hear that using fried rice makes for a quick way to satisfy this craving - because I swear I can't get enough of this stuff! I am definitely going to be doing this now! You rock.
I'm Laos and the traditional way is adding in shredded coconut. Since you're vegetarian, I would leave in adding the fermented pork. It is still delicious without the pork. Also, there is an option for a vegetarian fish sauce at the Asian grocery stores that you can substitute for regular fish sauce. Growing up in a Laos family, my parents would accompany Nam Khao with an assortment of vegetables to accompany it. We'll have mint, lettuce, cilantro. It's even better with toasted peanuts and accompanied by deep frying dried whole red chilies.
Marvellina | What To Cook Today says
I'm a bit late for this post, but I can relate to back to bed day! I wish though! My kids never let me sleep past 6:30 am! sigh! But on the high note....I love Laotian crispy rice salad. It is divine!!!
Definitely my favourite food. Laotian food is so underrated, I wished more people would try it! 🙂 It's amazing.
This dish is beautiful on it's own but the way you describe the flavors makes me want to go shopping for the ingredients right now! Wonderful photos and excellent tips, thanks for another awesome recipe!