Have you ever tried to write about a food 2 weeks after eating it? It’s difficult.
Happily for me, however, this salad is quite memorable as it actually makes my top 5 list of all dishes or foods of all time–and that is including desserts.
OK now that you have picked your jaw up off the floor, about the dish. It is a Thai salad composed of green (un-ripe) papaya and other veggies called som tom that I discovered while in Thailand. There it is very hot, salty, sour and just a tad sweet, and usually has various seafood elements (the most common on an American menu being dried shrimp). My version is unapologetically bastardized, as the salad can present some challenges (especially without a food processor, which is what happened to me when my sister requested it), but still quite tasty.
Most Thai recipes call for pounding the green papaya–my theory on this is that this is something that predates food processors or modern cheese shredders, and so it tenderized and flattened thicker pieces of sliced papaya. I do not bother. I also frequently skip the dried shrimp, as my source is not that great. I serve the fresh hot green chile peppers separately, as they would make it too hot for my kids (and this time the fresh peppers were on the mild side so we also used sambal oelek which works in a pinch). The store was out of Chinese long beans, which is a shame because they are quite tasty in this dish. Much like with Vietnamese nuoc cham, everything about the dressing is to taste, although I am sure purists could find fault with a dressing that is too sweet. For me personally, a som tom dressing is more sour than nuoc cham, although the basic ingredients are similar, and so I use more lime juice. And if I were not cooking for kids, I would make the dressing much hotter than nuoc cham.
Som Tom (Thai Green Papaya Salad)
Adapted from Victor Sodsook’s True Thai
2 medium-large green (un-ripe) papayas, peeled, seeded and shredded in a food processor or on a large holed grater
4-8 cloves of garlic, very finely minced (I give a range because some people cannot handle large quantities of raw garlic, although the lime juice will tame it some)
As many Thai bird chile peppers (or another hot pepper like serrano) as you can take, very finely minced with seeds
1 1/2 T light brown sugar
3 T fish sauce (to taste)
6 T fresh lime juice (to taste)
1 handful cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered, depending on size
1 handful shredded carrots
1/2 cup sliced Chinese long beans
1/2 cup roasted peanuts, salted or not, roughly chopped (I’m ok with leaving some whole)
Boston or Bibb lettuce, optional
Whisk together the garlic, fresh chile pepper, fish sauce, sugar and lime juice until the sugar has dissolved. Taste–I use some of the green papaya to dip and taste if I am having trouble getting a sense of it. Toss the green papaya in the dressing and then serve on an optional bed of lettuce, surrounded by the long beans, carrots and tomatoes.
This salad's been on my mind for a long time. Your lovely pictures are just the inspiration for me to go buy that raw papaya
Natasha @ Saved by the Egg Timer says
Yum! Your last 2 recipes have been Thai= my very fave food! I will be trying both soon. I have yet to perfect the fried rice….Thai fried rice is top, but I can't pin it! Let me know if you can!
Looks delicious… the freshness of the ingredients make this a winner. I have always used raw papaya as a tenderiser never as a salad. Should try this out.
WOW – all of the flavors in this salad sound incredible. Can't wait to give it a try for myself.
I have this in restaurants a lot but have never successfully recreated it. Thanks for the recipe!
Fun and Fearless in Beantown says
I made a green papaya slaw with nuoc cham sauce and absolutely loved it. It is amazing how crunchy the green papaya is yet still absorbing all of the wonderful flavors!