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)
Joyce's Recipe Notes
- 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.
Nuoc Cham Dressing
- 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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