A common ingredient in the Northeastern Thai cuisine, toasted rice powder, or khao khua, lends a crunchy texture and smoky-nutty flavor to dishes like larb, namtok, tom sab and the wonderful jaew dipping sauce. Its quality is best when freshly made, and you can easily make it in 20 minutes!
WHAT IS TOASTED RICE POWDER OR KHAO KHUA?
Toasted rice powder is an ingredient commonly found in Northeastern Thai (Isan) and Lao dishes. We call this ingredient "khao khua" in Thai, with "khao" meaning rice, and "khua" meaning to roast in a pan with no oil. When speaking of this ingredient, dishes that come to one's mind include larb, namtok, crying tiger, and tom sab. And let's not forget about the delicious jaew dipping sauce (nam jim jaew) that goes well with just about anything.
Although toasted rice powder lends a smoky-nutty flavor and crunchy texture to any dish it's added to, essentially, it's just rice. Rice that is dry roasted and then ground into a coarse powder. As simple as it sounds, toasted rice powder should never be omitted from any recipe that calls for it. Yes, even if it's just for 1-2 teaspoons.
WHAT KIND OF RICE SHOULD I USE TO MAKE TOASTED RICE POWDER?
As sticky rice or glutinous rice (or khao neow in Thai) is a staple in the Northeast of Thailand, traditionally, the rice used to make toasted rice powder is sticky rice. However, since people in other parts of the country don't always keep sticky rice in their pantry, many just use the normal white rice.
While using normal white rice to make toasted rice powder is not so bad, I will say that it'd be best if you could use sticky rice. People often say that sticky rice gives you a stronger smoky roasted flavor, and I agree. But what's more important is the fact that sticky rice and normal rice have different textures when mixed with other ingredients. And since toasted rice powder acts as a thickener in soups and sauces, you might want to make it with sticky rice whenever you can.
HOW TO MAKE TOASTED RICE POWDER
Heat a pan or wok over medium heat, add the rice and stir continuously. You want to be stirring almost all the time so that the rice doesn't burn. Though this step is really easy, it does take about a good 15 minutes for the rice to be right. Just look for that smoky, popcorny flavor and a golden brown color.
Once your rice reach the perfect golden color, remove it from heat and let cool completely. Then, you can start to grind it into a coarse powder. Traditionally, this process is done by pounding the rice with a pestle in a mortar. But I find that using a blender saves so much time and the result is pretty much the same. If you're using a blender or food processor, use the pulse feature. Simply pulse the rice a few times or until you get your preferred consistency. The key here is to make sure that you don't have any big grains left but that your powder isn't too fine either. If your powder is too fine, you won't get much of a texture when you use it.
Toasted rice powder should be kept in an airtight container. Though it will keep for a long time, I don't recommend making a large amount to store because its smoky flavor will fade. This ingredient has the best quality when freshly made. Whenever I'm cooking something that calls for it, I usually make just a little more than I need and use within 2 weeks.
When you use toasted rice powder in dishes that aren't soups - think salads like larb and namtok - don't add the powder to the salad mix when your meat is still very hot because that will cook the rice powder and cause it to lose its crunchy texture and the salads to lose their juices.
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Toasted Rice Powder Recipe
- 1/2 cup Thai sticky rice
- Heat a pan or wok over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, add sticky rice and stir continuously until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Then, remove the rice from heat and let cool completely.
- In a blender or food processor, pulse the toasted rice into a coarse powder. If using a mortar, pound the rice with a pestle in it. When done, there shouldn't be any large grains left, but the powder shouldn't be too fine either.
- Use the powder immediately or store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.