When fresh corn is in season, not much is required to bring out its flavor. I enjoy eating corn on the cob that has been grilled or steamed, but when I’m in the mood for something a little more inventive, I prefer to make Tam khao pod kai kem.
Tam khao pod kai kem is a tasty and light Thai salad that combines sweet popcorn, creamy coconut milk, and a salty, acidic, and sweet dressing prepared from fish sauce, lime juice, and palm sugar. Thai chilies add a light heat, while dried shrimp and salted duck egg highlight the salad’s savory side. Long beans that are crunchy and cherry tomatoes that are luscious offer texture to the dish.
Tam-style salads are pounded salads that are popular in Thai and Lao cuisine. Green papaya salad is unquestionably the most well-known tam-style salad outside of the region, and the term “Som Tam,” which combines the words meaning sour (Som) and “pounding in a mortar” (Tam), has come to be used interchangeably with it. However, there are numerous variations on the subject that incorporate items besides green papaya, like cucumber or, in this case, maize. Tam-style salads’ ingredients can vary, but their preparation is generally the same.
Tips & tricks for preparing the perfect Tam Khao Pod Kai Kem
#1 Avoid pulverizing the ingredients:
In the same way as prik gaeng (curry paste) is made, Som tam is created by grinding the ingredients in a mortar and pestle. The ingredients are added gradually, beginning with fibrous aromatics and moving on to more delicate elements as you go, all the while smashing and combining with the pestle. In contrast to curry pastes, the objective here is to bruise and break down the ingredients just till they begin to release their scents rather than finely grind them into a paste. Wooden or clay mortar and pestle are most suitable for this.
To begin making tam khao pod kai kem, I cook full ears of fresh corn in coconut milk until they are just about soft. As I sprinkle coconut milk over the salad just before serving, the corn absorbs a light layer of fatty richness from the coconut and adds its own flavor. In order to give the salad a more intriguing textural contrast, I sliced the corn off the cobs in planks rather than individual kernels after it had cooked and cooled significantly.
# 2 Adding Ingredients Gradually:
It’s time to use the mortar and pestle now that the corn has been organized. I start with briefly pounding the garlic, chilies, dried shrimp, and palm sugar until they are very slightly broken down. I then toss in some long beans and a few cherry tomatoes, pounding them just long enough for the tomatoes to split and release some of their juices. The palm sugar is thoroughly dissolved in the liquids by gently circling the pestle around the mortar. I then add fish sauce and lime juice to counteract the sweetness of the sugar. Lastly, I stir the salad with a spoon to incorporate the reserved corn and a salted duck egg that has been crumbled without breaking the corn kernels. With a texture and flavor that are somewhat reminiscent of Italian ricotta salata, the salted duck egg adds briny richness to the dish and works as a nice counterpoint to the sweet corn. The resulting salad is crunchy and bursting with coconut-infused corn and bruised long beans. The dressing’s well-balanced sweet, savory, sour, and salty flavors bring the salad’s flavors together.
- 240ml full-fat coconut milk
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 3 ears of fresh corn, shucked
- 1 cooked salted duck egg
- 2 small-size garlic cloves
- 2 to 3 fresh red or green Thai chilies, stemmed
- 1 tablespoon dried shrimp
- 1 tablespoon palm sugar, softened
- 4 cherry tomatoes (60g)
- 2 long beans, ends trimmed, cut crosswise into small bits
- 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice from 2 limes
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- Cooked jasmine or sticky rice, for serving
- Combine coconut milk, salt, and sugar in a medium Dutch oven. Over medium-high heat, bring to a boil while stirring occasionally to aid in the sugar and salt dissolving. With tongs, add the corn and rotate each ear so that the coconut liquid is equally distributed throughout. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and cook for about 6 minutes, checking and stirring occasionally with tongs. After moving the corn to a chopping board to cool slightly, take the coconut milk mixture from the heat and set it aside.
- Once the corn is cold enough to handle, using one ear at a time, cut the kernels from the cob in broad planks with a sharp knife, rotating the ear 90 degrees onto the freshly cut side in between cuts. Try to avoid breaking the corn into individual kernels and maintain the chunks as whole as you can. Repeat with the remaining corn; throw away the cobs and set the corn aside.
- Halve a salted duck egg lengthwise by cutting through the shell with a sharp knife. With a spoon, remove the egg from the shell; discard the shell. Egg should be broken up into small pieces with clean hands and left aside.
- Garlic and chilies should be combined and ground for about 30 seconds to a very coarse mixture in a clay or wooden mortar and pestle. For about 20 seconds, pound the palm sugar and dried shrimp until they are somewhat broken down. Long beans and tomatoes should be added, and they should be lightly pounded for about 15 seconds, until the beans are slightly crushed and the tomatoes have released some of their juices but are still largely whole. Don’t over-pound the ingredients; you want to preserve their integrity and texture. Use the pestle to stir in a circular motion while gently pressing the mortar for about 15 seconds to completely dissolve the palm sugar. Add the fish sauce and lime juice.
- Mix in the reserved corn and salted duck egg. Mix gently with a large spoon, trying to keep the corn in large clusters (some of the corn will break down into individual kernels, which is fine). Drizzle with 1/4 cup of the reserved coconut milk mixture and serve. Serve with cooked jasmine or sticky rice right away.