Food is about so much more than nutrition—it’s one of the most personal expressions of our cultures, values, and traditions. Our series, Behind the Recipe, profiles a different healthy cook every month to explore the personal, untold stories of their favorite dishes.
This month, Pepper Teigen (yep, Chrissy Teigen’s mom) shares one of the very first foods she learned to make with her grandma, kanom krok (or Thai coconut pancakes) and shares the recipe excerpted from her new book, The Pepper Thai Cookbook: Family Recipes From Everyone’s Favorite Thai Mom($18).
I learned to cook from my mom and grandma when I was growing in Thailand. My mom would sell lunches to school kids in front of our house and every morning I woke up early to help her. Even when I was just four or five years old, I helped her make the lunches. It’s funny for me to look at my granddaughter, Luna, and think about how I was helping my mom cook when I was her age!
At the time, I thought of making the school lunches as a chore. But looking back, I’m glad I had that time with my mom. The lunches were traditional Thai foods like papaya salad, chicken soup with vegetables and white rice, or stir-fried cabbage and broccoli. Then when it was lunchtime, I helped my mom serve the food through a little window before sitting down to eat my own lunch.
Cooking and eating with family is what makes food so special; that’s what gives it meaning.
It seemed like my grandma was always cooking, too. One of my favorite foods that we used to cook together is kanom krok, or Thai coconut pancakes. Equal parts savory and sweet, they’re made with rice flour, jasmine rice, coconut milk, and brown sugar. I can still picture her using a stone to grind the rice into flour. We didn’t have instant flour like there is now. You had to start from scratch by soaking the rice in the water and then grinding it using a stone to turn it into your own homemade rice flour. Once the batter was ready, she’d let me pour it into the little holes in the kanom krok griddle. That was the fun part. When they were ready, we’d top them off with scallions together. They were the perfect afternoon snack.
I was 10 years old the first time I made kanom krok all by myself. My mom told me, “You need to find something to do.” So, I made some and started selling them in front of our house—just like I had seen my mom do with school lunches. My grandma came by and tried some and they got her approval. That’s what’s great about kanom krok—they’re so simple that even a child can make them.
Now, I make Thai coconut pancakes all the time with Luna. She loves them just as much as I did when I was her age. We have fun cooking them together. She loves to drop the batter down into the little holes in the griddle just like I did. They don’t take long to cook, so it’s no trouble at all for me to make them for her whenever she wants them. You can also make a big batch so that you have them to snack on throughout the week.
I’m glad for the time I spent cooking with my mom and grandma, and it makes me so happy to share that with Chrissy, John, and the kids now. The foods I learned to cook, like kanom krok, have stayed with me my whole life and will continue to be passed down for generations. That’s really important to me. Cooking and eating with family is what makes food so special; that’s what gives it meaning. These Thai coconut pancakes are so much more than just pancakes. Decades of memories are baked right in with the flour, coconut milk, and brown sugar. The ingredients are what make it delicious, but the legacy is what makes it special.
Kanom krok (Thai coconut pancakes)
Makes 50 pancakes
For the batter:
1 cup rice flour
1/4 cup cooked jasmine rice
1/4 cup full-fat coconut milk
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
3 Tbsp light brown sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
For the topping:
1 cup full-fat coconut milk
1 Tbsp tapioca starch or cornstarch
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
Melted coconut oil, for cooking, or vegetable oil
8 scallions, finely chopped
1/2 cup canned corn kernels, drained
1. Start by making the batter. In a blender, combine two cups of warm water, the rice flour, cooked rice, coconut milk, shredded coconut, brown sugar, and salt. Blend until smooth. Set the blender jar aside. (You can use it to pour the batter later.)
2. Make the topping: In a small bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, tapioca starch, granulated sugar, and salt until dissolved and no lumps remain.
If using a kanom krok pan:
1. Place a kanom krok pan ($25) over medium heat and let it heat up for a few minutes. (The pan is ready when a drop of water sizzles immediately.) Set a wire rack for the cooked pancakes on your work surface. Have the bowl of topping nearby. Brush the cups of the pan generously with oil. Use a spatula to give the batter a good stir, then fill each cup about two-thirds full with batter. After the batter has cooked for about one minute, give the bowl of topping a good stir and spoon enough topping into the center of each pancake to completely fill the cup. Sprinkle each pancake with a few scallions and corn kernels.
2. Reduce the heat to medium-low and loosely cover the pan with a lid (any large lid will do) or tent with foil. Cook, covered, until the edges of the pancakes are golden brown and the tops are no longer watery, about six minutes. (Since the pan is nonstick, use a small spoon to check the bottom of the pancakes to see if they’re browned.) Using a small spoon or butter knife, gently lift the pancakes from the pan and place them on the wire rack. Repeat with the remaining batter. Serve the kanom krok warm.
If using a muffin pan in place of a kanom krok pan:
1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Place a muffin pan in the oven and heat for five minutes.
2. Carefully remove the muffin pan from the oven and add a few drops of oil to each cup, using a heatproof brush or paper towel to evenly coat the cups. Place the pan back in the oven to heat the oil, two minutes.
3. Remove the pan from the oven and fill each cup about three-fourths of an inch deep with batter; you should hear it sizzle. Gently tilt the pan so the batter spreads evenly.
4. Bake until the batter has formed a skin, three to four minutes. Carefully spoon a generous tablespoon of the topping into the center of the mostly cooked batter, filling each cup another three-fourth inch or so. Sprinkle each with corn and scallions.
5. Return the pan to the oven and cook until filling is firm, 12 to 15 minutes. Use a butter knife to carefully loosen the kanom krok from the surface of the pan tray. Repeat with the remaining batter. Serve the kanom krok warm.
As told to Emily Laurence.
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