When living in Thailand I wasn’t a huge fan of Thai food a few months after moving there - probably because the smell of chili and garlic was at every corner, bombarding my nostrils day and night. Since leaving Thailand, I have become much more loving of the Thai flavors. The freshness and lightness of the food is something you don’t find often, especially in a world where everything tastes better with a lot of cheese. This green papaya salad makes for the perfect, light summer dish.
Green papaya salad is common all throughout South East Asia. Green papaya is the main ingredient, an unripe version of the common papaya fruit. On the outside it looks like a firm, green football. Instead of its vibrant orange color inside, it is still green and much harder. The flesh gets shredded and then massaged with the dressing to make it soft and edible. If you walk the streets of South East Asia, you will be intrigued by the women using a sharp machete like knife to chop shallow lines into the papaya, then using a peeler pulling off perfectly julienned strips of green papaya flesh. At home, you don’t have to be so adventurous with your knife. If you have a julienne slicer or mandolin peeler, those will work perfectly. Alternatively, run it over your finest grater holes.
In Thai food, fish sauce is used to make dishes taste more salty. Although my cooking class instructor would be horrified, I absolutely use soy sauce (or tamari, liquid aminos or coconut aminos for a gluten free version) instead. The real som tum salad uses a lot of sugar to balance out the spiciness, so instead I use raw honey. For the green beans, you have the option of keeping them raw or steaming them quickly for better digestion - up to you! The green snake beans are super long. You may not be able to find them, and can substitute with regular green beans instead.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Marinating time: 15 minutes
Makes 2 main or 4 side servings:
For the salad:
- 1 green papaya
- 10 cherry tomatoes
- 8 long green snake beans (or 20 regular green beans)
- 1 handful or dry-roasted, salted peanuts
For the dressing:
- juice of 2 large limes (or 4 smaller ones)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 ½ Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 red Thai chili, deseeded and finely chopped
- 1 tsp raw honey
First, mix together the ingredients for your dressing. Add more chili if you can handle more spice!
Next peel the papaya. Using a mandolin peeler (or the small holes of a grater), shred the papaya all around. You should get around 4 cups of shredded papaya. Make sure to not use the bitter seeds in the center of the papaya.
Place the shredded papaya into the bowl with the dressing.
Chop the beans into 5cm/2 inch pieces. This is the time to quickly steam or boil your beans if you want. Otherwise leave them raw and add to the papaya.
Quarter the cherry tomatoes and add to the bowl.
Mix everything well, and place in fridge to marinate for 15 minutes.
Just before serving, add the peanuts to the salad to give it crunchiness. You can serve the salad as is or roll up in lettuce leaves for a cute appetizer dish.
Bonus note: finding green papaya can sometimes be difficult. Look in Asian supermarkets where you would usually find sweet potato and taro. If not, find a not super ripe regular papaya with slightly yellow flesh; that should also work!