One of South East Asia’s hidden gems, Laotian Nam Khao (ແໝມເຂົ້າ) is a celebration of crunchy rice and fragrant, aromatic ingredients – it’s a taste and textural sensation.
As South East Asian salad recipes go, Laotian Nam Khao (Crispy Rice Salad) is one of the best you'll ever likely experience! I first tasted this salad in a Thai restaurant in Sydney, I was blown away by the complex taste and textures light, intense and fragrant. Years passed and I never saw it again on any menu until happening upon it in a tiny Laos market a matter of minutes from my home in Vegas.
The Laos Market serves only 4-5 items inside the mini-mart. All delicious, but none more so than the traditional Laos Nam Khao. It's served simply with a big pile of crunchy lettuce and an abundance of fresh herbs to wrap around the crunchy rice salad.
What makes Nam Khao so special?
The salad is a wonderful combination of flavour and textures. It's the texture specifically than makes it so memorable. Crispy, soft and aromatic in every bite. Here's the breakdown:
1. Cooked rice is combined with curry paste and a combination of aromatics like ginger, garlic, kaffir lime leaves and shallots. The mixture is worked into a homogenous consistency.
2. The rice mixture is then formed into small balls ready for the next (and magically transformative) step. Tip: I like to refrigerate the rice balls for 30 minutes to help firm up the shape to avoid breaking up during cooking.
3. Deep frying the rice balls is the next step. This creates a wonderful crispy outer surface while the centre remains soft. This creates the stand out texture of the finished Nam Khao salad.
4. The rice balls are then left to cool until needed. When ready, the balls are simply broken into small pieces - this ensures a good combination of crisp and soft textures when the final Nam Khao salad is put together.