Nhem Khao (Lao Crispy Rice Salad)


250ml Coconut Cream*
60g Red Curry Paste (Optional)
1 kg Cooked White Rice
80g Grated Coconut
15g Sugar
Pinch of Salt
Corn Starch for dusting
3 Eggs, beaten
Oil for Deep Frying
400g Chopped Som Moo (Fermented Pork)
100g Sliced Shallots
Approx 45ml freshly squeezed Lime Juice
Approx 45ml Fish Sauce
Chopped Coriander (Cilantro)
Chopped Mint
Dried Chillies
Crushed Peanuts

*Coconut Cream is available in 250 ml mini cartons. Chaokoh and Arroy-D are two reliably good Thai brands of the product.

Mix the Coconut Cream in a large bowl (with the Red Curry Paste if elected to use), Sugar, Salt and Grated Coconut.
Add the Rice, continuing to mix well, making sure that all the liquid is absorbed in to the Rice. Form balls, the size of Tennis Balls, making sure that you pack them tightly as this will stop them from breaking up whilst frying.
Dip the Rice Balls in to the Beaten Eggs then dredge in the Corn Starch.
Deep fry until golden brown then allow to cool a little.
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.
Give the rice a gentle stir and allow to come to room temperature.
Add the chopped Som Moo and Shallots, season with the Fish Sauce and Lime Juice to taste (some people add a little Sugar).
Add the Coriander (Cilantro) and Mint then lightly mix.

Return the reserved crusts to the deep fryer and fry until crispy and brown, drain on paper towels.
Once the crust are warm enough to handle crumble them on to the Rice mixture, add the Peanuts then lightly toss, garnish with the Dried Chillies and enjoy immediately with some crispy Lettuce or Betel Leaves.

There are a couple of Nhem restaurants in Vientiane that prepare this dish as their specialty. They have some variations on this recipe. Specifically they don't use Som Moo but rather pork skin and they add it at order. The later addition allows for a very popular vegetarian option. The rice balls are cooked with the addition of herbs and fresh herbs added at preparation time. The dish is always prepared freshly with only the rice balls ready to go. All other ingredients are held as single additives. 
Another interesting variation at serving is the supply of sliced banana flower pieces. Banana flower has an astringent quality and used sparingly.