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What Is Nam Khao?

By H.R. Childress
Updated May 17, 2024
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Nam khao, also known as nam kao tod or nhem khao and sometimes is called Laotian crispy rice salad in English-speaking countries, is an appetizer salad common in Laos. The main components are fried balls of rice and a type of fermented pork called som moo. It also contains vegetables, herbs, and various other ingredients.

Preparation of nam khao takes a relatively long time since the rice must be cooked and fried before the salad can be assembled. Some cooks ferment their own som moo, which takes even longer to prepare. The som moo consists of fresh ground pork flavored with salt, garlic, and chili peppers. It also contains cooked rice and pork skins. This mixture is allowed to ferment for a few days.

The rice balls are typically made of jasmine rice or white rice. The rice should be completely cooked before the balls are formed. The cooked rice is mixed with grated coconut, red curry paste, a little sugar, and sometimes fish sauce. Either the creamy part of coconut milk or eggs can be used to hold the mixture together.

Tightly packed balls around 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter are formed out of the rice mixture. The balls are usually dipped into beaten egg and then into cornstarch, though they may be fried without a coating. The rice balls are then deep-fried until they become crispy.

Once the fried rice balls are cool enough to handle, they are broken up into small pieces to be incorporated with the other salad ingredients. The som moo, chopped shallots, lime juice, fried dried chili peppers, and crushed roasted peanuts are typical components of nam khao. Other ingredients might include mint, cilantro, fish sauce, and green onions. All the salad ingredients are mixed together.

Nam khao is typically served in a bowl with lettuce or cabbage leaves and possibly extra seasonings on the side, such as lime wedges, chilies, and herbs. The lettuce or cabbage leaves allow the salad to be eaten in wrap form, like a burrito. Usually, some of the nam khao is scooped into a lettuce leaf and then topped with any chili peppers or herbs the diner desires. The leaf is then wrapped around the filling and the whole thing is eaten together. Sometimes a few of the broken-up pieces of rice balls are fried again and served with the salad as an extra crispy topping.

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