Popped rice -- brown hulls are visible in the center of the photo
Our Thai helper Wan has been with Dave and I since 2002, when we lived in Bangkok. After more than 8 years of the three of us under one roof she's like a member of the family. It's thanks to Wan that we're able to do what we do; given our three dogs and two cats traveling 6 months out of the year for a living would be out of the question if not for her. When we leave we know that everything -- living and otherwise -- will be in competent and loving hands until we get back. And you can't put a price peace of mind like that.
Twice a year we pack Wan off to her village near Buriram, in Thailand's northeast Isaan region, for a few weeks of family, food, and R & R. She leaves carrying suitcases bursting with edible presents my old food magazines ("When I retire I'll relax in my new house and enjoy looking at them."). When she returns to KL she's maxed out her weight limit with foods from home.
There's always something for us -- usually long-grained red rice (deliciously nutty) from her village, maybe some dried red chilies or kanom (sweets). Back from her last trip in December, Wan gifted us a plastic tub of the best Thai coconut palm sugar I've ever tasted, purchased on a Bangkok street from a southern Thai lady who comes north a couple times a year to sell her family's product. I've cooked with it some, but mostly we've been eating it like candy, straight from the tub, apportioned out a tiny tip-of-a-spoonful at a time.
From her last visit home Wan also carried a bag of un-hulled sticky rice. One day last week I returned home to the smell of toast --she was cooking the rice in a dry pan like popcorn.
"I'm making krayasaat just like in my village," Wan announced. Which got me very excited indeed.
Krayasaat is a traditional Thai confection made with popped rice -- something along the lines of the best rice krispie treat you've ever eaten only one hundred times tastier. We had our last taste of krayasaat a few years ago in Bangkok, when we bought a portion from a batch just made that morning by the owner of a beauty parlor Suan Plu market. It was caramely with palm sugar and boasted lots of roasted peanuts and sesame seeds; not too sweet, more snack than candy.
Krayasaat, made with kao mao colored with pandan
Later that day the scent of palm sugar heating in a pan drew me to Wan's kitchen (just me and my notebook; Dave, if he's attached to a camera, is rarely welcome there). She was stirring the same type of palm sugar she'd gifted us with coconut oil over a low heat. Next to her cooktop sat a bowl of white sesame seeds, another of lightly blistered peanuts that she'd roasted herself, and still another of kao mao, young rice that's been toasted and pounded in a process similar to -- but nowhere near as long and labor-intensive as -- the one that produces Philippine duman.
"So you use palm sugar to make krayasaat?" I asked Wan.
"Arai gaw dai," she answered, using her favorite phrase ("Up to you.") "If you like to use palm sugar OK. If you want to use white sugar you can do."
"OK then," I parried, pen and notebook ready. "How about the popped rice? Do you have to use sticky rice?"
"Arai gaw dai. Sticky rice, regular rice, either can do."
"Well Wan, what are the other ingredients? Palm sugar, coconut oil, popped rice.."
"Arai gaw dai, Khun Robyn!" Exaggerated eye rolling at this point, and I think I heard a snort or two. "You like peanut, put peanut. You like sesame, OK. You don't like, you don't put!"
"Arai gaw dai."
"Should you include kao mao?"
"Arai gaw dai."
One solid instruction only did Wan offer: the finished krayasaat shouldn't be caramel-sticky. Hers was sweet, but each ingredient remained distinct. It was a smoky, coconuty-peanuty treat to eat with a spoon, not with one's hands.
And next time she makes it I'm going to stay out of the kitchen.
Wan's KrayasaatCoconut oil. No question.
Palm sugar or white sugar, up to you
Kao mao, if you like it.
Sesame seeds -- or not, up to you
Roasted peanuts maybe -- depends on your taste
Salt, unless you don't like the salty in which case no need. Up to you.
Puffed rice, not too much so it's all coated when you finish. But enough rice so it's not sticky
Heat coconut oil and palm sugar (proportions up to you) in a pan till soft. Stir in kao mao, sesame seeds and roasted peanuts if using -- Up To You! -- salt (if you like salty). Stir, then pour over puffed rice. Mix everything together, spread in a dish, and enjoy.