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Another super-simple recipe. Tom Thai is a great spring and summer dish and adds a very different and interesting salad to your repertoire.
I do not like papaya as a fruit. There is something in the flavor that I find a little too overwhelming. An extra flavor that I don’t want. Like if I were to eat a strawberry and then have the taste of beef broth in the middle of it. That’s how I feel about ripened papaya fruit.
Ripened papaya is nothing like it’s crisp, young self.
Green papaya has a crunch and texture, more like shredded cabbage. The taste is mild and it absorbs a lot of the flavors that are put into, kind of like “pasta” of the salad world.
An unripe papaya has a vibrant and deep green hue to its outer skin. And the inner meat is a light lime-green color.
A whole, medium-sized papaya can make about 4-6 cups of shredded salad. And as a nice sized salad, you probably would eat at least 2-3 cups.
I will often eat is just by itself. Some grilled chicken or a small portion of rice goes well with it, too.
2-3 cups of shredded green papaya
1-2 tablespoons of Juice of 1 medium or 1-2 small limes
2-4 cloves of garlic or ¼ to ½ tablespoon of garlic flake (if you have garlic powder use ¼ to ½ teaspoon)
½ to 2 tablespoons of fish sauce
½ to 2 tablespoons of sugar
1-5 Thai red chilies
1-2 pieces of long bean or 4 or 5 fresh green beans
1 medium or 2 small tomatoes
About ¼ cup of roasted peanuts, preferably unsalted
There are several ways to make the shredded papaya. The innermost portion of the papaya can sometimes have a soft, foamy appearance, do not use this part for the salad, it is unpleasant, with an odd foam-like texture.
Peel the papaya first, using a peeler or sharp knife. And then slice into thin strips. I am aware of several different methods to do this:
1. One is to buy a peeler that has an undulating blade and as you peel makes shredded pieces.
2. Super-dangerous way – “The Thai Way” - is to take a knife, and with a chopping action, but not with the intent to chop all the way through, gouge the papaya with the length of the blade in parallel with the length of the papaya. Do this over and over again and then cut off the pieces by slicing off this outermost portion, repeat until too dangerous or you cut yourself. (NOT RECOMMENDED for obvious reasons)
3. Use a mandolin or slicer with the wavy blade or slicer attachment.
4. Use a knife and slice the papaya on a cutting board.
When you have a pile of at least 2 or 3 cups, then you have enough. You can finish the slicing of the whole papaya if more people are eating or wrap carefully and store to eat later.
You can make the dressing first if you like. I like to make it first because it allows the flavors to mingle a little before I mix it with the pile of shredded green papaya and I am all about flavors mingling.
Cut the green beans or long bean into about 1-inch (2.5 cm) sections, it does not have to be perfect, but should be of a good size to fit into your mouth with some of the papaya.
Cut the tomatoes into about 1-inch pieces, these are really to add flavor more than anything. I do not like a lot of tomato in my papaya salad and I would suggest not adding more than a quarter to a half cup total of large-sized, chopped tomato.
Juice the limes, you should have about 1-2 tablespoons of juice. This is the acid or vinegar-like juice in the mix. It is easy to add more later if you want, but if you add too much it can be overpowering.
In a bowl, put the lime juice, add ½ tablespoon of fish sauce, sugar, crushed or diced garlic (or the flakes or powder) and diced Thai chilies. Mix these together thoroughly. The fish sauce adds the salt to this dish. If you don’t like the flavor of fish sauce, you can use a small amount of sauce. Even though I do not care for most fish ingredients, fish sauce has a concentrated flavor that does add to the dish. By itself it is a pungent fish liquid, but as an ingredient, it does add deep flavors. As well, if you are watching your sugar intake, you can put less sugar, but it helps to balance the tartness of the lime juice. I suggest at least a teaspoon or two of sugar.
The firepower of chilies. My wife refers to anything that doesn’t scorch her mouth with spice as being “boring”. She would probably want 7 or 8 whole red Thai Chilies with this dish. At some point, spicy becomes ridiculous and painful. I like about 2 or 3 chilies, enough heat to make me sweat, but not enough to make me guzzle milk and wash my mouth. If you like to eat spicy things regularly and have experience with red Thai chilies, then go ahead and experiment. If you like things mild, skip the chilies, or just add a couple drops of hot sauce or a pinch of cayenne. The spice does add a nice flavor, but it does not need to be atomic to enjoy this healthy salad.
Most Thais will use a large size mortar and pestle to make the dressing, crushing the garlic, chilies, tomatoes and beans a little. If you do not have a mortar and pestle, just make sure you chop and mix everything together well. I do not recommend a blender, as that would destroy the texture.
A note on raw garlic. There is a component in garlic that can cause upset stomachs or heartburn due to the human digestive system lacking proper enzymes to break it down. And raw garlic has an extremely potent taste and bad breath aftereffect. If you are concerned about these issues, use garlic powder or flakes, but use them sparingly and allow them to fully absorb into the liquid.
After the dressing is made and the papaya is cut, toss them together along with some of the peanuts. I like to save some of the peanuts and put them on top just before serving for some extra crunch. I suggested eating immediately. Like most salads in a dressing, the crunch will leave and in an hour or two it will be soggy and gross.
Like many recipes, the recipe herein is a guideline to make this salad. Just like you can take out the spicy if you don't like spicy, you can add or subtract to the recommended amounts of ingredients to help balance out the flavors. Food-making is always a little bit of an experiment. If it doesn't turn out just perfect, work on adjusting it for next time and take notes. Just like adjustments probably need to be made for not having a large-size mortar and pestle, different ways to get to the same end. Be flexible and adjust.
Green papaya salad is one of my favorite salads to eat. I like it so much because it has different ingredients than I am used to eating in the U.S. and the flavors work well together with the zip of spice. I hope you can enjoy it, too.
If you have not read it already, check out my story behind this amazing dish. One of my first tastes was also the spiciest thing I have ever eaten.