When I was talking to Khun Wanna, owner of Spoon Thai restaurant in Chicago, my main objective was to get from her the recipe for (Yam) Naem Khao Tod  which apparently is a favorite among hard-core Thai food lovers in Chicago many of whom gather virtually to express their love for this restaurant and this dish on LTHForum. Well, that objective was achieved.
But my conversation with Khun Wanna also touched on many issues pertinent to Thai food as found in the US, how a restaurant must walk the delicate line between serving food that we Thais consider good and food that will appeal to the non-Thai palate and ensure profitability, etc. It was very interesting and made me think about things. However, to relay all that to you in this post will only detract from the attention which this unique salad so richly deserves. Therefore, I’ll keep all that for a later time.
While minor variations abound, the main components of Yam Naem Khao Tod are pretty much constant: crispy bits of curried rice croquettes, slivers of fresh ginger, some fresh herbs, fried peanuts, and soured/fermented pork naem (แหนม). What draws the multitudes to this salad is its varied textures and flavors. With every bite, you get the crunchy rice bits, the tang of the lime and soured pork, the refreshing herbs, the bite of raw ginger, and some heat from the chilies. Oh, and the peanuts. How can that not be good?
I don’t eat out at a Thai restaurant in the US very often. But when I do, this is the type of thing I order, namely multi-component, multi-step dishes that take longer to make than they do to eat, don’t keep well (or at all), and leave behind tons of dirty dishes to wash after the craving has been satisfied (after just a few bites). Yam Naem Khao Tod is one of those things that I adore but rarely, if ever, feel compelled to make at home. If your local Thai restaurant has this on its menu, by all means, get it.
The version of Naem Khao Tod as served at Spoon Thai is quite good in a no-frills way. The rice croquettes are seasoned simply with prepared red curry paste and a little bit of rice flour to enhance the crunchiness. The soft interiors of the deep-fried rice croquettes are scooped out, and only the crunchy shells get used — something not commonly done elsewhere as far as I know. Additionally, fresh bird’s eye chilies are used instead of the more common fried dried red chilies, and red onions are used in place of the more common shallots.
It’s simple, but it works.
Naem Khao Tod (แหนมข้าวทอด)
Recipe courtesy of Spoon Thai Restaurant, Chicago
2 cups of cold, cooked long grain rice (preferably jasmine)
1 tablespoon Thai red curry paste
2 tablespoons rice flour (All-purpose flour also works.)
1/2 cup naem slices
1/2 tablespoon finely-chopped fresh bird’s eye chilies, or to taste
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup ginger slivers
1/3 cup thinly-sliced red onions
1/2 cup mixture of chopped cilantro and green onions
Approximately 1/3 cup fried or roasted peanuts
- Make the rice croquettes by mixing rice, curry paste, and flour together very thoroughly.
- Form the mixture into 3 patties of equal size.
- Deep fry them until the exteriors are golden brown and crunchy.
- Split each croquette in half and let them cool down enough for you to handle.
- With a spoon, scoop out and discard the inside and tear up the crunchy shells by hand into 1/4-inch bits; set aside.
- Add to a mixing bowl, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and chilies; stir.
- Add naem, followed by the rice bits and the remaining ingredients. Toss and serve immediately. (These last two steps are flexible in terms of the order in which the ingredients go in. It’s best, however, to mix together the dressing ingredients in the bowl until the sugar has dissolved before adding other ingredients.)
Disclaimer: Shesimmers.com is not connected to or compensated for in any way by Spoon Thai restaurant.
 Officially, (Yam) Naem Khao Thot; shown on Spoon’s Thai menu as Naem Khao Thawt.