Please note that the correct English transcription is khaao khuaa, but for practical purposes, we will refer to it as khao khua.
Khao kua is ground (toasted) roasted rice. It is mainly associated with either Northeastern cuisine (Issan) as a textural element added to laap or nam dtohk (น้ำตก) dishes; however, khao kua is also a common ingredient in Northern Thai-style dishes and is even used in aristocratic Central Thai cooking. As well, it can be used as a thickening agent or the main ingredient rather than as an accent.
In Issan and Northern Thai cuisine, uncooked glutinous rice grains are roasted on low heat until they are golden brown. A slow and gradual roasting is essential to ensure that the rice grains are thoroughly cooked, as high heat or a rapid roasting will burn the rice or leave it uncooked.
Although khao khua is often associated with rustic cuisine, this does not justify rushing the roasting process – preparing a good quality khao khua requires patience and attention to detail. I prefer to roast the rice grains to blond shades, taking the color only to the point where the grains are evenly and fully cooked, lightly smoky, and retaining their earthy-nuttiness aroma. This, however, is a personal preference and you may, if you prefer, roast the rice to a deeper shade.
It is preferable to grind the rice using a mortar and pestle. Do not pound the rice: grind it in a circular motion with the pestle to achieve the perfect sand-like texture. This grinding stage is important; if ground too fine, the texture will be powder-like. If too rough, the rice will feel scratchy like sandpaper.
Uncooked glutinous rice is preferred for Issan and Northern Thai dishes and uncooked jasmine rice grains are used to make the ground roasted rice referred to as khaao jao khuaa (ข้าวเจ้าคั่ว). This is used in Central Plains dishes like bplaa naaem (ปลาแนม), a snack or an appetizer made with grilled fish, roasted galangal, ground roasted jasmine rice, pork skin, firm pork fat, and bitter orange peel seasoned to a gentle three flavors profile.
Muu saa (หมูซ่า) is another Central-style dish that features ground roasted jasmine rice, which is mixed with minced pork meat cooked in lime juice, pork skin, firm pork fat, and pickled garlic.
Khao khua can be tinged with the aroma of kaffir lime leaves and galangal, the spiciness of chilies, and the richness of white sesame seeds.
I usually roast and grind the rice with aromatics such as fresh kaffir lime leaves, a thin slice of fresh galangal, and a single piece of dried chili.
Khao khua appears as a textural element in Issan dishes such as laap, koy and naam jim jaaeo (น้ำจิ้มแจ่ว) – an Issan-style dipping sauce that often accompanies grilled meats.
Khao khua is also used as a thickener in dishes such as Northern Thai-style steamed banana leaf parcels of chicken, herbs, and vegetables (haaw neung gai baan; ห่อนึ้งไก่บ้าน); a Northern Thai-style thick khaae-style curry called gaaeng khaae khaao khuaa (แกงแคข้าวคั่ว); or Issan-style aawm curry (gaaeng aawm ; แกงอ่อม)
Certain laap dishes can be enriched with sesame seeds. The rice and sesame grains are roasted separately and grounded together at a ratio of two parts roasted glutinous rice to one-half part roasted white sesame seeds.
Very much like bread, kau kua is best when made fresh and used on the same day.
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- 1/3 cup uncooked glutinous rice (ข้าวสารข้าวเหนียว)
- 3 pieces kaffir lime leaves (ใบมะกรูด)
- 2 pieces dried Thai bird’s eye chili (phrik kee noo) (พริกขี้หนููแห้ง)
- 1 slice galangal (ข่า) very thin slice
- In a wok, over very low heat, roast the rice together with kaffir lime leaves, fresh galangal, and dried chili.
- Constantly stirring, continue to roast until the rice is lightly golden and the aromatics have dried up.
- Let the rice cool to room temperature. Transfer the rice and the aromatics to a mortar and pestle and grind it into a fine sand-like texture, using the pestle in a round circular motion.