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Vilailuck “Pepper” Teigen – mother of model and celebrity Chrissy Teigen and mother-in-law of pop star John Legend – has parlayed a supporting role on her daughter’s widely-followed Instagram into celebrity status of her own. Last month, the woman who inspired the younger Teigen’s interest cooking released her first cookbook. The Pepper Thai Cookbook: Family Recipes From Everyone’s Favorite Thai Mom includes dishes from traditional Thai to creative fusions. We asked her to share a vegan recipe from the book, her version of the Thai coconut pancakes known as kanom krok, a dish that that Teigen has been making since her childhood in Korat, Thailand – and today enjoys with her children and grandchildren in California.
Reprinted from The Pepper Thai Cookbook. Copyright © 2021 by Vilailuck Teigen with Garrett Snyder. Photographs copyright © 2021 by Jenny Huang. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House.
When I was ten years old, my first job was selling kanom krok, which are little half-moon coconut pancakes that are crispy on the outside with a soft and smooth coconut cream topping, and since Thai people love a little savory with their sweet, we often sprinkle on some kernels of sweet corn or finely chopped scal-lions to add a pop of flavor and color. Popular all over Thailand, I would wake up very early to make the rice flour batter, then cook them outside and sell them to people heading to work — all before I left for school at 7 a.m. I still remember that feeling of counting the little stack of money in my hand and being so excited.
In our family, kanom krok is a tradition that is passed down from mother to daughter. My grandma taught my mom, and my mom taught me. Even before we were allowed to use the stove, my sisters and I would play in the dirt and pretend we were making little mud pie versions of kanom krok. When Chrissy and Tina were little, I taught them how to make the pancakes so they were just the right texture. They were really skilled at it, too! It was the perfect food for us to cook and eat together. When I was working on this book, Luna got to make her first kanom krok, ladling the batter in the hot pan and watching the edges bubble. She was a natural, so it must be in our genes.
Both the batter and topping can be made in advance and stored in the fridge for up to a day. If the batter has thickened too much, add water until it’s thin enough to pour easily.
Note: To make kanom krok, you need a special pan/griddle, which has several circular cups to cook the batter. I’ve had my cast-iron kanom krok griddle forever, but you can find them very easily online or at most Thai supermarkets. You can also use a pan designed for Dutch aebleskiver or Japanese takoyaki, or an electric cake pop maker, though the capacity of the cups may vary slightly. [See note at end of recipe for a method to make kanas krok in a standard muffin tin.]
Make the batter: In a blender, combine 2 cups warm water, the rice flour, cooked rice, coconut milk, shredded coconut, brown sugar, and salt and blend until smooth. Set the blender jar aside (you can use it to pour the batter later).
Make the topping: In a small bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, tapioca starch, granulated sugar, and salt until dissolved and no lumps remain.
To finish: Place a kanom krok pan 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 1 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.
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 6 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 on the wire rack. Repeat with the remaining batter.
Serve the kanom krok warm.
If you’re not able to find a special pan for kanom krok, you can use an oven and a muffin pan to get pretty close to the real deal. Here’s how:
Muffin Pan Method Preheat the oven to 450°F. Place a muffin pan in the oven and heat for 5 minutes.
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, 2 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and fill each cup about ¾ inch deep with batter; you should hear it sizzle. Gently tilt the pan so the batter spreads evenly. Bake until the batter has formed a skin, 3 to 4 minutes.
Carefully spoon a generous tablespoon of the topping into the center of the mostly cooked batter, filling each cup another ¾ inch or so. Sprinkle each with corn and scallions.
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.