Kacang puteh, translated as “white nuts,” refers to the once-prevalent practice in Singapore of street vendors hawking boiled and roasted nuts and legumes as well as assorted fried snacks.
When I was a child, the best snacks — such as kacang puteh — were grabbed by the fistful. There was always somewhere to get to, something to discover, as I clutched the tapered cone.
Memories in Singapore are always set against, and rapidly outpaced by, the forces of urban development. Old trades, dishes and landmarks disappear noiselessly beneath residential redevelopment plans and ever-rising retail costs. When there is no one to record, it is easy to forget.
But during holidays, we remember. So these treats are my Singaporean “white Christmas,” gesturing toward Moorthy and his profession, in the face of a dying trade.
Savory, seasoned snacks set with marshmallow sound ludicrous at first blush, like the notion of snow ever falling in Singapore. Rice Krispies Treats were never part of my childhood, but just as you use common referents to describe old memories to new friends, that iconic confection cobbles everything together in a geode — a wistful, sticky-sweet marshmallow metaphor. In my version, a yogurt topping adds a meltingly creamy finish, meant to evoke yogurt-coated snack bars. With salt and spice, the treat melds two worlds: savory and sweet, yours and mine.
Like the pick-and-mix sensibility behind kacang puteh, these snacks are achievable with whatever nibbles you have on hand. Experiment: Try crispy broad beans, roasted grams and melon seeds, puffy pinwheel crackers. If you’re gluten-free, use crispy rice cereal and tailor the add-ins to your preferences. Double-check your Bombay mix; the crunchy noodles, called omapodi, are made with chickpea flour and typically do not include gluten, though they may be processed at factories with products containing it.
Salted ‘Kacang Puteh’ Crisped Rice Treats
Avoid any sour cream or vinegar-flavored mix-ins, as they add an unwelcome note to the treats.
Depending on what mix-ins you use, this recipe can be gluten-free.
Puffed rice cereal brands vary, which will affect how crisp your treats stay over time. For maximum longevity, toast your cereal before using. Place a large, dry, wide-bottomed pan over medium-low heat. Add the cereal and toast, stirring occasionally, until golden and nutty smelling, 5 to 10 minutes. Set aside and let cool completely before proceeding.
Make Ahead: The uncoated bars can be refrigerated up to 1 day in advance.
Storage: The bars can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week, but are best consumed within the first 3 days.
Where to Buy: The most commonly found brand of vegan marshmallows is Dandies, which are available online and at well-stocked supermarkets. Trader Joe’s marshmallows are vegan as well. Savory snack mixes and roasted chickpeas or legumes are available at Indian and Asian markets, as well as online and at well-stocked supermarkets.
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For the bars
- Nonstick cooking spray
- 6 tablespoons (65 grams) virgin or refined coconut oil
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 1/4 cup (60 milliliters/93 grams) agave syrup
- 2 tablespoons coconut cream (not cream of coconut) or other plant-based cream
- One (10-ounce/285-gram) bag vegan marshmallows (see Where to Buy)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3/4 teaspoon fine salt
- 3/4 cup (180 grams) natural peanut butter, well-stirred and at room temperature
- 2 cups (50 grams) puffed rice cereal, such as Rice Krispies (see notes, above)
- 2 cups (170 grams) savory snacks, such as Bombay mix, chevda mix or murukku, larger noodles broken up into pieces no larger than 2 inches, plus more for optional garnish
- 1 cup (45 grams) vegetable chips of choice, such as potato or tapioca, crushed, plus more for optional garnish
- 1/2 cup (65 grams) roasted nuts, chickpeas or other legumes, or a mix, plus more for optional garnish
For the glaze
- 1/2 cup (63 grams) confectioners’ sugar, plus more as needed
- 1 tablespoon thick nondairy yogurt, such as coconut, cashew or oat (may substitute with more lemon juice, if desired), plus more as needed
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, plus more as needed
Make the bars: Spray an 8-inch square baking dish or pan with nonstick spray, then line it with two crisscrossed pieces of parchment paper long enough to have a generous overhang on all sides. Have ready a piece of 8-inch square of parchment paper or plastic wrap.
In a medium pot over medium-low heat, melt the coconut oil with the garam masala, stirring occasionally with a heatproof spatula just until the spices are fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. (You should be able to smell the spices toasting as the oil melts.) Add the agave and coconut cream, stirring to combine. Once the mixture is emulsified, stir in the marshmallows until completely coated and reduce the heat to low. Patiently stir until the marshmallows are melted and the mixture is smooth, 5 to 7 minutes; remove from the heat.
Stir in the vanilla and salt. Gently fold in the peanut butter, 4 to 5 strokes, leaving streaks of marshmallow visible. (It’s important to add the peanut butter at this point and not earlier — direct heat will make it seize and separate.) The mixture will start to stiffen, but do not panic: The goal is to incorporate some of the peanut butter, while having the mixture still workable. Less stirring is better than too much.
Add the rice cereal, snacks, chips and nuts, chickpeas or legumes and mix vigorously until everything is well-coated and incorporated, making sure to scrape around the sides and bottom of the pot. Working quickly, scoop all of the mixture into the prepared pan. Using the prepared sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap, lightly and deftly flatten the gooey mixture all around the pan, evenly patting to smooth the surface and fill all the corners. Be gentle, yet firm. Avoid forcefully compressing the mixture, which will result in stiff, brick-hard bars instead of chewy, soft-set ones.
Transfer to the refrigerator to chill completely (uncovered is okay), at least 2 hours and up to 1 day.
Make the glaze: When ready to glaze the slab, in a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, yogurt and lemon juice until combined. Adjust the consistency using more sugar, yogurt and/or lemon juice until you achieve a fairly thin glaze that will create an even but translucent layer on top of the treats. If you prefer something thicker and sweeter, add more sugar.
Pour the glaze over the slab in the pan. Use an offset spatula or small butter knife to spread the coating into an even layer, reaching the edges. If desired, top with additional cereal, snacks, chips and/or roasted nuts.
Return to the refrigerator to let the glaze set, 10 to 15 minutes. (If you made a thicker glaze, it may take more time to set.)
When ready to serve, remove from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 10 minutes before slicing into 16 squares with a sharp knife.
Per 2-inch square
Calories: 311; Total Fat: 16 g; Saturated Fat: 6 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 275 mg; Carbohydrates: 38 g; Dietary Fiber: 2 g; Sugar: 21 g; Protein: 4 g
This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.
From baker and food writer Gan Chin Lin.
Tested by Becky Krystal; email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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