If you’re anything like me, a craving for something sweet, once sated, is soon followed by a craving for something salty, which is followed by a craving for something sweet, ad nauseum (sometimes all too literally). This pattern could possibly explain why I’m obsessed with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, which seem to satisfy that sweet/salty cycle like no other treat can. Until I tried krayasaat.
Krayasaat is a Thai snack, made of palm sugar, sesame seeds, coconut oil, popped rice, peanuts and salt. I wish I could say that I reverse-engineered this recipe from my all-to-brief stay in Thailand back in 2005, but I can’t. Instead, I found the first description of it from the blog EatingAsia, a gorgeous food-travel-photography blog featuring predominantly Asian locales. The “recipe” was provided by a woman named Wan, the longtime housekeeper and friend of the bloggers, who framed it in the highly adaptive terms of traditional Thai cooking (and, come to think of it, some of my recipes too).
Though the description and ingredients had my mouth watering, it took me awhile to track everything down. I was living in Cape Town at the time, which has a relatively low Asian population compared to some of the other places I’ve lived (New York City, Hartford, and, um, Beijing), so the few Asian markets weren’t as well-stocked as what I was used to. Palm sugar was surprisingly easy to find, and the sesame, peanuts, coconut oil and salt definitely weren’t a problem. But for the life of me, I couldn’t find popped rice. I dragged myself by taxi (the slightly dangerous but inexpensive mini-buses that zoom around South Africa’s cities) from the Thai and Korean markets in Sea Point all the way over to the Mainland China market in Claremont, all to no avail. I had almost given up when I found a big packet of puffed brown rice snuggled away in the corner of the health shop in Gardens. It wasn’t popped rice, but it would have to do. After all my hunting, I probably would have offered a kidney, but luckily only had to shell out R25 (about $3 US).
From there, I went home, got into the kitchen and whipped together the ingredients into what seemed like the right proportions. In about 15 minutes I was having my first taste of sweet, salty, toasted and crunchy krayasaat in all it’s coconutty glory. I’ve since made it many times; these photographs are from my most recent batch. I liked my puffed rice version just fine (though I’ve used white in the photos you see here, but brown is just as nice), but if you can find or make popped rice, by all means go ahead. And a word to the wise: if possible, try to buy your ingredients at ethnic markets. The brick of palm sugar you see above cost me a measly $1.50, and the sesame seeds not much more at $2.50 (for about 3 cups worth, mind you). You’ll save boatloads of money and won’t sacrifice on quality in the least.
1 chunk palm sugar, about the size of two ping pong balls, broken into smaller pieces
½ cup coconut oil
4 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tsp coarse sea salt, like Maldon
1/3 cup roasted peanuts, crushed into smaller pieces (optional)
5 cups puffed rice
**In deference to Wan, these ingredients may be tweaked to your taste. If you prefer sweet, leave out the salt. If you’d like more peanut, add more. However your final product shouldn’t be sticky or oily in your hand, so be careful when changing the amount of palm sugar and coconut oil.
Heat coconut oil over low, low heat in a small saucepan. Add palm sugar and let it break down into the oil; unlike regular sugar, this will not dissolve and instead will make kind of a gloppy, soft paste. You may need to use a little muscle and crush it into smaller pieces with a wooden spoon. Meanwhile, measure out puffed rice and set aside in a large bowl. When palm sugar is sufficiently soft, add in salt, peanuts (if using), and sesame seeds. Mix. Remove from heat and pour over puffed rice gradually, stirring as you go. This will keep in an airtight container for a few days, though I seriously, seriously doubt if you’ll be able to keep it for that long …