I have recently developed a serious addiction to Green Papaya Salad. I wasn’t that fussed about it at first, could take it or leave it, but now it’s one of the few dishes that actually makes me salivate when I think about it! No joke. First, it’s the textures; crunchy papaya and carrot balanced by soft cherry tomatoes, then the dressing; sweet, salty, sour and spicy all at once, all rounded off with crunchy and smokey roasted peanuts that counter all that tanginess. A yummy, low fat and, most importantly, satisfying treat.
I tried it for the first time at what has become one of our favorite restaurants for a cheap and cheerful dinner, Thailand restaurant in the funky Block 338 in Adliya. Nothing fancy but great food and quick service which ticks two important boxes for us.
We began by ordering the dish whenever we happened to go to a Thai restaurant, about once a month, I guess. It’s now got to the point where the thought of Green Papaya Salad pops in to my head, and that’s it, I have to have it. And this is happening with increased frequency which isn’t always very convenient.
You can imagine how happy I was, then, to randomly pick up an old copy of Bon Appétit that was lying around at my Dad’s and find Molly Weitzman of Orangette’s column, in which she shared the story of her discovery of Green Papaya Salad, and more importantly, her recipe! I was obviously destined to make this dish.
My many failed attempts to find exotic or unusual ingredients in Bahrain in the past has at times led me to shy away from recipes that need them (day long searches for mirin or poppy seeds aren’t my idea of a good time – yes, I know poppy seeds aren’t exotic or unusual) but when my Dad told me about the supermarket Rachanee, that stocks a great selection of Asian ingredients, I thought I might as well give it a shot.
After a few successful attempts I think it is safe to say that I am now armed with a recipe that will satisfy my papaya salad cravings at whatever inconvenient time they decide to occur and can save myself a few journeys across town. Next time I will be trying Molly’s suggestion of serving the salad with grilled prawns for a light lunch.
This is definitely a dish that you are going to want to tweak to suit your specific taste – I prefer it without dried prawns, my husband likes more palm sugar, my neighbour likes less chilli – maybe for you it will be more lime, no peanuts, extra tomatoes? The recipe I have shared below is my version post tweaking but I have also added some notes at the end outlining other variations you might like to try. The fresh, crunchy green papaya is a must but there is plenty of room for experimentation with the other ingredients.
I have to warn you though, this salad is not for the faint hearted. It’s loaded with powerful flavours and really packs a punch. Oh, and with 3 cloves of raw garlic in the dressing, you might want to have a packet of gum handy or make sure everyone around you is eating it too!Thai Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam) (Serves 6 as a side dish)
(adapted from Molly Weitzman’s recipe, Bon Apétit May 2010)
INGREDIENTS6 tbsp fresh lime juice (approx 3 limes)
2 tbsp fish sauce
3 1/2 tbsp palm sugar
3 garlic cloves, bashed with a knife and roughly chopped
1 small red chillies, deseeded and sliced at an angle
3 Chinese long beans or 15 thin green beans, chopped into 4cm long pieces
1 green papaya (weighing approx 700g-800g), peeled and seeds removed
1 medium carrot, peeled
2 spring onions, sliced
15 cherry tomatoes, quartered
2 tbsp roasted peanuts
Variations: small dried prawns, coriander, thai basil, bean sprouts, large tomatoes instead of cherry tomatoes.
**Some notes on the ingredients: The lime juice has to be fresh, bottled just won’t cut it for this recipe. You need to make sure the papaya is unripe and light green (almost white) on the inside. Ripe, sweet papayas also have dark green skin but will not work for this recipe. If in doubt ask someone at the shop to confirm. If you’d like a spicier dressing you can leave the seeds in the chilli – but be warned, they are HOT and it is quite a spicy dressing even without them. The palm sugar I used came in cylindrical blocks which I grated but I have also seen it in granular form in the spice section of some supermarkets. Some of the Thai ingredients required can be found in large supermarkets these days and the others are available at Asian supermarkets.
Gently whisk together the lime juice, fish sauce and palm sugar in a jug until the sugar has dissolved. Add the chilli, garlic and half of the tomatoes and use the whisk in a muddling motion to squash the tomatoes slightly. Set jug aside.
Cut the papaya into pieces, approximately 6cm long, and cut the carrot in half. Using a mandolin or julienne peeler, shred the papaya and carrot into thin strips and mix together in a large bowl.
Cook the beans in slightly salted water for 3-4mins so they remain crisp. Drain and rinse in cold water. Add to the papaya and carrot once cooled.
Add the remaining tomatoes to the bowl, pour over dressing and toss all the ingredients together. Toast the peanuts in a small pan for 2-3 minutes until small black patches start to appear, then sprinkle them over the salad along with the spring onions and serve.