Style Green Papaya Salad Healthy Food
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Style Green Papaya Salad Healthy Food

Walk down any bustling street in Thailand and you will hear the rhythmic beat of wooden pestles striking clay mortars as vendors prepare iterations of som tam—pounded salads that are paired with a sour dressing.



The most well-known entry in this category is easily som tam Thai, the shredded green papaya salad found in central. Thailand that has become synonymous with the term “som tam.” The salad combines crunchy strips of unripe green papaya with fresh chiles, pungent garlic, savory dried shrimp, roasted peanuts, long beans, and tomatoes, all of which are tossed with a salty-sour-sweet dressing made with fish sauce, lime juice, and palm sugar. It’s everything you could want in a salad—refreshing, light, and quick to prepare.


Som Tam  Tam-style pounded salads are integral to the cuisines of Laos and Isan, and they have become a fast-food, on-the-go item that can now be found all over Thailand and pretty much any place that serves Lao or Thai dishes outside of Southeast Asia. While som tam salads follow the same basic preparation blueprint (more on that later), ingredients and flavor profiles vary from region to region.

In Laos and Isan, som tam tends to favor savory and sour notes rather than sweetness, with ingredients like pla ra—a fermented fish sauce known as padaek in Lao—salted crabs, and pickled plums.


This recipe is for central Thai-style som tam, which is evenly balanced between sour and sweet, thanks to a generous amount of palm sugar in the dressing. Sweetness and saltiness can vary a good deal between styles, but sour, or “som,” is a requirement. Vicky Wasik The other requirement for tam-style salads is a mortar and pestle–specifically a wooden or clay mortar with a wooden pestle.


The goal for pounding ingredients for salads is to lightly bruise and break them down to the point that they release their juices but hold onto their crunchy texture. The kind of heavy granite mortar and pestle I use for making a prik gaeng (curry paste) is great for pulverizing fibrous aromatics and dried spices into a fine paste, but it’s not well-suited for pounding tasks that require a lighter touch.


The increased volume capacity of a large clay or wooden mortar is ideal for salad-mixing, but despite being larger they are much lighter to maneuver.

Sourcing and Preparing Green Papaya As for the salad itself, the star of the show is the green papaya. Green papaya is actually fairly easy to source in the US, and can be found at most Asian grocery stores, especially Southeast Asian markets.


While they are unripe papayas, I strongly advise against trying to pick out a green-skinned papaya at a supermarket like Whole Foods, no matter how firm and unripe they feel.


Despite their appearance, they are much further along in the ripening process than a true green papaya, and you will find that they are orange and sweet once you cut into them. Like green tomatoes, green papayas are their own thing, harvested for a specific culinary purpose, and shouldn’t be confused with a fruit that has just been picked before being fully ripe in order to survive shipping.


When shopping for green papaya, look for fruit that are firm and feel heavy for their size. If the fruit is squishy, put it down and keep searching.


The traditional way to prepare a green papaya for som tam is to peel it and cut it by hand into strips with a sharp knife. I do this by holding the papaya in my non-dominant hand while making a series of parallel cuts running lengthwise on the papaya, and then shaving down across the length of the papaya to create shreds. This method produces perfectly imperfect shreds with interesting texture, a mix of larger, crunchier pieces, and thinner, more delicate ones.


The downside to this method is that it’s more time-consuming and it can be a little nerve-wracking for anyone who doesn’t trust themselves completely with a sharp knife. Luckily, there’s an easy alternative to hand-cut green papaya: you can use a specialized green papaya peeler, like this affordable one from Kiwi.


The Kiwi peeler works much in the same way as a Western julienne peeler; it has a classic y-peeler profile, with a ridged tooth blade that produces even strands of papaya when run down the length of the peeled fruit.


Restaurants often favor this tool for making som tam because it gives you consistent results, fast. I find that peeler-shredded papaya doesn’t retain its crunch quite as well as knife-cut, and I prefer the varied texture produced with a knife. Whichever method you go with, avoid standard julienne peelers, which create shreds that are too thin, which in turn will result in a soggy som tam.