Khao khua (ข้าวคั่ว), or roasted rice powder, is probably one of the unsung heroes in northeastern Thai cuisine. It’s what makes a dish embodies its distinct Isaan flavours, yet its inconspicuous powdery form is often overlooked. It’s absolutely vital in certain Isaan dishes, such as laap (Isaan/Lao-style minced meat salad) and naam tok (grilled meat salad). And khao khua is certainly one of the easiest Thai ingredients to make and stock up at home—all you need are just some jasmine rice (glutinous rice is even better), a skillet and a mortar and pestle (a grinder will also do).
I placed a handful of jasmine rice grains onto a non-stick pan and heat them up on medium high heat, stirring them continuously. For the first minute or two, nothing seemed to be happening; the white grains swam languidly as I shoved them around the skillet. Then after several minutes—that’s when the action would go up a few notches so make sure the stirring doesn’t stop—the white grains started to change their colours, first turning beige before taking on brown hues to resemble brown rice.
When they were all evenly brown, I switched off the fire, scooped up the darkened grains, placed them into a granite mortar and started pounding away. “Tok, tok, tok,” went the pestle and mortar as the two stone surfaces collided with each other. I obviously hadn’t mastered the art of pounding roasted rice, and bits of broken rice grains kept jumping out. The grains gradually became smaller and smaller until they resembled coarse powder. I reckoned I took close to 20 minutes to complete this simple task, but it felt good to work my flabby arms too.
Funny incident: I kept the remaining khao khua in a small clear bag and left it lying on the kitchen table. My dad, mistaking it for plum powder, scattered the contents on pieces of cut guavas. When he bit into the fruits, he exclaimed, “There’s no taste!”