Som Tam Salad is a Thai treasure
February 22 2018 10:48 PM
REFRESHING: The salad is addictively hot and refreshingly crunchy. Photo by the author

Thai cuisine has given us so many treasures in terms of delicious dishes which we can all savour and enjoy with friends and family. One such treasure is the Thai papaya salad which is amongst Thai cuisines best exports. This salad is addictively hot, refreshingly crunchy, intensely savoury and insanely sour – in short the flavours of south east Asia in a plate. No doubt this landed the delectable salad into the list of “50 most delicious foods” a few years ago. Thai green salad is locally known as “Som Tam”. Especially in the fast approaching summer days Som Tam’s remarkable cooling properties are always appreciated. Also the name denotes a salad made in mortar from an old dialect for sour and to pound. So, the green papaya is the most popular main ingredient along with other seasonings and additives. However, you can use carrots, cucumber and horse-radishes to make your own speciality version.
Talking about green papaya – The papaya is the fruit of the Carica papaya tree, it is native to southern Mexico and Central America and is now cultivated in many tropical regions. The fruit sometimes is used to be referred to as a “tree melon.” In Australia it is called Paw Paw. Today there are mainly two varieties of papaya, Hawaiian and Mexican. The Mexican papaya can weigh as much as ten pounds while the Hawaiian usually weighs about a pound. It is smaller. Another local variety popular in India is Disco Papaya, which I guess may be related to the dancing feeling after you eat this tender and bright red papaya variety.
Som Tam as the name suggests, is a dish that requires a pestle and mortar or similar. In Thailand, they would use a clay version but a stone one is fine, as long as you are careful not to pound the ingredients too hard – the vegetables should be bruised, rather than crushed. The traditional way of preparing the papaya is to hold it in one hand while it is cut and shredded vigorously with a sharp knife. I personally prefer and recommend the grater method as the shavings are thin and consistent and more enjoyable to eat. The basis of making a perfect green papaya salad is to make a balance of four taste – sweet, sour, hot and salty. To achieve these aspects almost all the recipes call for addition of garlic, chilli, fish sauce, lime juice and dried shrimps.
Green papaya salad is the most popular salad in Thailand and is especially loved by Thai women – perhaps because it’s low in calories and fat, but very high in taste and eating satisfaction, helping you stay slim. This salad recipe is crunchy-delicious, whether served as a side dish or an appetiser, or as the entree. Cooked shrimp or crab meat can be added or cashews if vegetarian, or try eating it as they do in Thailand – with a bowl of sticky rice.

Som Tam Salad

Green papaya 1/2 no
Beans sprouts 1 cup
Cucumber 1/2 no
Tomato 1 no
Green onions 3 stalk
Coriander leaves 1/2 cup
Basil leaves 1/3 cup
Peanut, roasted 1/4 cup
Dried shrimp 1 cup
Tofu, fried 1 cup (optional for vegetarians)

For dressing
Garlic, minced 3-4 cloves
Lime juice 2 tbsp
Soy sauce 3 tbsp
Brown sugar 2 tbsp
Honey 2 tbsp
Shrimp Paste 1 tsp
Thai red chilli 1-2 nos.

Cut the papaya lengthwise and open it, scrape out the seeds and discard
Peel the skin and hand shred the papaya or grate in a food processor
Bash the green papaya with mortar or a knife handle to bring out the juice and make it a bit soft, keep aside
For the dressing in a separate bowl combine minced garlic, lime juice, soy sauce, brown sugar, honey, shrimp paste and chopped Thai red chilli
Blend all the ingredients together to make a dressing, keep aside
Combine the shredded papaya with beans sprouts, shredded tomato, shredded cucumber, green onions, coriander leaves and combine well
Add the prepared dressing and toss to coat the papaya
Add the peanuts and basil leaves 
Taste the salad if you like more saltier add fish sauce and soy sauce, if you prefer it sweet add more honey
Serve the salad cold in a salad bowl and pour the remaining dressing over it
You can also serve it along sticky rice or coconut rice
Note: Look for the raw papaya and not for the regular papaya. You can also substitute green papaya with cucumber. You can also add your choice of shredded protein like chicken to make a non-vegetarian version.

* Chef Tarun Kapoor,  Culinary Mastermind,  USA. He may be contacted at [email protected]

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