Although its origins lie in Thailand’s rural northeast, this dish of strips of crunchy unripe papaya bruised in a mortar and pestle with tomato, long beans, chilli, lime and fish sauce, has found a foothold in virtually every corner of the country. Couple the dish with a basket of sticky rice for a light yet piquant Thai meal.
SERVES 4+ (Makes one very large bowl of Som Tam)
1/2 green papaya (see buying instructions below)
1- 2 cups bean sprouts
1/2 English cucumber, sliced into matchstick-like pieces
2 tomatoes, cut into thin wedges or strips
3 green onions, cut into matchstick-like pieces
1/2 cup fresh coriander
1/3 cup fresh basil
1/4 cup dry roasted peanuts, ground or chopped
Optional: 3/4 to 1 cup cooked shrimp or crab meat (if vegetarian: add 1/2 to 1 cup fried tofu)
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
juice of 1 lime
3 Tbsp. fish sauce (OR 4 Tbsp. soy sauce if vegetarian)
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1-2 Tbsp. liquid honey (to taste)
1 tsp. shrimp paste (OR 1 tsp. ground bean sauce if vegetarian)
1-2 Thai red chilies (or substitute 1/2 tsp. or more dried crushed chili)
1. Stir all “dressing” ingredients together. This dressing should be tangy – a combination of sweet, sour, spicy and salty, but more sweet than sour (this will help balance out the sharpness of the papaya).
2. Slice the papaya in half lengthwise and crack it open. Scrape out the seeds and discard. Then turn over each half and peel off the green skin.
3. Use a large-size grater to grate the papaya, or shred it as they do in Thailand: simply make many long cuts into the flesh, then thinly slice off the top layer into a bowl (to see what this looks like, go to: How to Shred Green Papaya.
At this point, Thai cooks preform an optional step, bashing the shredded papaya with a pestle to bring out the juice. Another way is to place the shredded papaya in a food processor and pulse briefly.
4. Combine the green papaya with all the other salad ingredients in a large bowl, reserving the peanuts and half the fresh basil for toppings. Pour over the dressing and toss well.
5. Taste-test the salad. If you’d prefer it saltier, add more fish sauce or soy sauce. If you’d prefer it sweeter, drizzle over a little more honey. Toss again.
6. Portion out into bowls and top with the ground peanuts plus reserved basil.