Thai Green Papaya Salad (Som Tum)

Green papaya is an intriguing ingredient to me, because it is just an unripe papaya, but here in the Netherlands costs about three times as much as a ripe one. The green papaya itself doesn’t have much flavor and provides mostly texture to the dish. So I think Som Tum was invented by a hungry Thai who wanted to make green papaya tasty. Well I’d say he succeeded, because this is a great tasting salad. As often in Thai dishes it is all about balance: between the sweetness of the tomatoes and palm sugar and the acidity of the lime juice and tamarind juice, as well as between the freshness of the long beans and the earthy and toasty umami notes of the fish sauce, dried shrimp, and roasted peanuts. I think it should be possible to replace the green papaya with something else, but I haven’t thought of anything yet with a similar texture and lack of distinguishing flavor. Candidates like celeriac have too specific a flavor to be a good substitute. Fresh tamarind is an ingredient that I had not used before, but the fresh juice is certainly worth the small effort of making it fresh. I used a larger fresh red chili, but if you like it hot, use one or more small Thai chillies. I’ve based this upon Pailin’s recipe.

Ingredients

For 2-4 servings

1 green papaya

12 grams (1 heaping Tbsp) small dried shrimp

15 grams (1 1/2 Tbsp) palm sugar, finely chopped

4 long beans (about 60 grams, 2 oz; can be substituted by green beans)

fresh tamarind pods, to yield 40 grams (1/4 cup) of fresh tamarind pulp

100 grams (1/2 cup) cherry tomatoes, washed and halved

2 Tbsp fresh lime juice

1 garlic clove

1 red chili

30 grams (3 Tbsp) roasted peanuts

1 1/2 Tbsp fish sauce

Instructions

Peel the green papaya…

…and slice it into julienne. I used the food processor for this and my juliennes turned out a bit on the short side, but it does save a lot of time.

Put the papaya in a bowl and cover with cold water, then refrigerate. This will make the papaya more crunchy. You can add ice cubes if you want to serve in an hour or less.

To make fresh tamarind juice, separate the pulp from the shells and the seeds. You can easily do this with your fingers.

Combine 40 grams (1/4 cup) tamarind pulp with 120 ml (1/2 cup) cold water.

Blend…

…until smooth.

Use a muslin or cheesecloth to strain the juice out of the pulp…

…squeezing to get more juice out.

Thai are crazy about doing everything with pestle and mortar, but I prefer to mince the garlic and chili first.

Pound the garlic and chili with in a mortar with a pestle until it is a pulp.

Add the palm sugar, and pound until the sugar has dissolved.

Wash the long beans and cut them into 5 cm (2 inch) pieces. Add them to the mortar…

…and pound until they start to break.

Add the dried shrimp…

…and 2 Tbsp of the peanuts… (reserving the final tablespoon of peanuts for garnish)

…and pound some more.

Add the lime juice…

…and tamarind juice…

…and fish sauce.

Like I said the Thai love to do everything with mortar and pestle, but at this point I think a spoon is a better utensil to mix everything.

Take the papaya out of the refrigerator, and drain it.

Pat the papaya dry with paper towels…

…and put it in a large bowl, together with the dressing.

Again the Thai will now use a huge mortar and pestle to mix and pound the salad, but I do not own such a huge mortar and just mixing works fine.

You could mix in the cherry tomatoes at this point (and even break them up a little), but I decided to serve them on top for presentation purposes.

Serve the salad with the cherry tomatoes and sprinkle with the reserved peanuts.

Wine pairing

We enjoyed this with a Petite Arvine, a rare grape variety from the Aosta valley in northwestern Italy, at the foot of the Monte Bianco but still at considerable altitude. This wine is dry but fruity with a mineral character and medium to low acidity.

Flashback

This homemade coconut ice cream is an appropriate flashback for today. It is made using coconut milk and desiccated coconut and therefore full of natural coconut flavor.

5 thoughts on “Thai Green Papaya Salad (Som Tum)

  1. I’ve just recently discovered the beauty of Som Tum. I was literally shocked how pricy green papaya is in Germany. It is around 9 Euros each!! I asked a friend who lives in Bangok. Well, you can get one for 30 Cents or so.

    For my second Som Tum I tried a papaya from india. At least, this is what they told me in the asian supermarket (despite the spanish label on it). Texture was not half as good compared to the thai papaya. Only difference was that the seeds were black while the seeds in the thai papaya were white. I asked my friend, and he told me that the seeds have to be white. In “riper” fruits the seeds turn black.

    As much as I love Som Tum, in Germany this is really luxury food. A dozen oysters are not as expensive. 🙂 In addition to that, is is quite difficult to get good quality thai long beans.

    It could be interesting to find a substitute for the green papaya (like unripe pear or so). However, the texture of the papaya is really very interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve not had green papaya salad before but it makes sense particularly if you think about a hungry Thai who couldn’t wait for it to ripen. Here, green mango salad is the rage, for similar reasons. In one of our popular Thai restaurants, they make it with another unusual ingredient: toasted rice powder! It is very delicious!
    I suggest jicama might be a good substitute if you can’t find green papaya, although it is slightly sweet and definitely starchier than green papaya.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Green papaya is expensive in the UK too and as you say does not have a distinctive taste. Agree that the beans are important. I substitute raw courgette or underripe honeydew or Galla melon for the papaya.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. An inevitable matter of geography again ! Living in Australia have made green pawpaw salad forever, more or less your way. Love it throughout the year and not just with Thai dishes. Our green and yellow ones usually lie in the one pile and are the same price . . . out of curiosity just googled one of our main supermarket chains: today Coles is selling pawpaws at $A 3.80 each or two for seven dollars . . .that, for us, is expensive but the season for daily enjoyment has yet to begin . . . fun to make and so yum to eat . . .

    Liked by 1 person

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