In Isan, a region in northeast Thailand, “zab” is used to describe a Captain Falcon–strength jolt of flavor to the mouth. Toasted and ground sticky rice (khao khua) is a common ingredient Isan cooks call in for a what’s-the-word-for-this crunch on minty salads or puckery, porky laap. So that I don’t lose any of that volatile roasty-toastiness, I toast and powder only what I plan to use that day. For a finger-sticking dust worth its salt, I add a tiny squeeze of lime, pinch of chile, and just enough sugar to bring you back for more. Massage the lime zest in with your fingers, and hover—if you dare—for a zab-zab punch to the face. Use to dust popcorn, roasted fish collars, or fried chicken wings. —Coral Lee
about 1/4 cup
Thai sticky rice
stalk lemongrass, tough layers removed, cut into 3-inch pieces
Makrut lime leaves
Thai bird chile
freshly squeezed lime juice
In This Recipe
Toast the sticky rice, lemon grass, lime leaves, and chili in a shallow frying pan set over low heat, stirring frequently, until everything is a deep mahogany and crisp, 18 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
Transfer the toasted sticky rice mixture to a blender, spice grinder, or mortar and pestle, and blitz until it’s the texture of cornmeal. Pour into a small bowl or glass jar, fish out any stringy lemongrass bits, and stir in the remaining ingredients.
Coral Lee is an Associate Editor at Food52. Before this, she cooked food solely for photos. Before that, she cooked food solely for customers. And before that, she shot lasers at frescoes in Herculaneum and taught yoga.
When she's not writing about or making food, she's thinking about it. Her Heritage Radio Network show, "Meant to be Eaten," explores cross-cultural exchange as afforded by food. You can follow her on Instagram @meanttobeeaten.