Khanom Khai Nok Krata ขนมไข่นกกระทา – Thai Fried Sweet Potato Balls

Thai fried sweet potato balls – another one in the GFB-inspired series of fried goods. Please note that the light sprinkling of powdered sugar is my own heathen touch which you would never see done to this old-fashioned snack in the motherland. My fellow Thais, please accept my apology for this sacrilege. For those readers who are related to me, please don’t leave chastising messages on my voicemail.

This is another incident wherein sweet potatoes are used to replicate something that is originally made with Thai yams. This has resulted in the texture being a bit different and, due to the slightly higher sugar content, the exterior taking on a darker shade of brown more quickly in the frying pan. But I think these are delicious and quite close to what you would find on the streets of Bangkok.

Khanom Khai Nok Krata (ขนมไข่นกกระทา) is what we call these fried dough balls in Thai. The khanom (ขนม)part is, for lack of a better way to explain, an identity marker alerting your attention to the fact that the ‘thing’ whose name this word precedes belongs in the dessert/snack category. (I’m sure there’s a clearer and better way to explain it, but it eludes me at this moment.) Khai nok krata (ไข่นกกระทา) means quail’s egg – a telling moniker indicating the size of these little cuties. Though it’s difficult to tell from the pictures, each of these fried balls is indeed the size of a quail’s egg.

However, the similarity between these fried sweet potato balls and actual quail’s eggs extends beyond size; the outer shells of these fried balls, when pressed, collapse and crack in a similar manner to eggshells. When the dough balls hit the oil, they puff up a little. The inside becomes light and airy (almost hollow) whereas the outside forms very thin and crispy shell. The flavor is only mildly sweet. They are not exactly dessert, but more of a snack — something you pop into your mouth while strolling in the park.

According to one of the Thai cookbooks which I have inherited from my mother, the crispiness of these fried balls is due to the use of limestone water (a common ingredient in Thai kitchens back in the day when betel nut chewing was in vogue). To mimic the alkalinity of this ingredient which would be hard to find these days in Bangkok let alone Chicago, I used baking soda. In my perhaps biased opinion, though the end results aren’t as spectacular as the original, they are most definitely more than acceptable.

[Note added 5-22-09: As pointed out by Sandy, one of my commenters, please note that these fried sweet potato balls need to be consumed fresh off the wok. Sandy is absolutely right; they don’t keep at all and cannot be reheated. Thanks, Sandy!]

Khanom Khai Nok Krata ขนมไข่นกกระทา – Thai Fried Sweet Potato Balls
Makes approximately 120 3/4-inch balls
Printable Version

1 1/4 pounds sweet potatoes
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups tapioca starch
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (Any gluten-free flour can also be used.)
2 teaspoons baking soda
Room temperature water
*For better results, omit baking soda and water and use limestone water instead.

  • Bake the sweet potatoes until cooked through. Peel off the skins, mash the potatoes, and leave the mashed potatoes to cool off completely and dry out a little. (You could boil or steam them, but I’ve found that baking is the best cooking method for this recipe. This is somewhat similar to how you prepare potatoes with which you make gnocchi. Dry, flaky riced potatoes require smaller amount of flour to form a smooth dough and result in lighter gnocchi.) You don’t want to skip the cooling and the drying as it would result in gummy, heavy, and sticky end results as opposed to crispy, light, and airy.
  • Once the mashed sweet potatoes have cooled, measure out exactly two cups and put it in a mixing bowl. Add in the flours, baking soda, salt, and sugar; mix lightly with a wooden spoon. Add water to the mixture a little at a time. You need just enough water to form a ball of dough. Mix as lightly as you can; do not knead.
  • Make 3/4-inch balls. You should end up with about 120.
  • Prepare the frying pan and oil. The oil shouldn’t be too hot. (If the dough balls become browned right away once they hit the oil, turn down the heat a couple of notches. You want to allow these balls at least 20-30 seconds in the oil for them to puff up properly and become light and crispy without being overly browned.)
  • Once the dough balls are in the oil, use a wired “spider” to squish them hard against the bottom of the pan and move them around constantly allow the surface to be evenly browned. Continue to do this for 2-3 minutes. After that, the dough balls should be evenly browned and hollow inside and ready to be fished out onto a rack or a paper towel-line plate.
  • Serve immediately. A sprinkling of powdered sugar is considered unorthodox and completely optional. If you have a cranky Thai purist in your immediate vicinity, powdered sugar may not be the brightest idea.
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