Som Tam: Thailand’s Zesty Papaya Salad
This salad mixes green papaya, chiles, garlic, dried shrimp, peanuts, long beans, and tomatoes in a zesty dressing made with fish sauce, lime juice, and palm sugar.
2 small garlic cloves (approximately 6g in weight)
2 to 3 fresh Thai chiles (totaling 2 to 3g), with the stems removed (please see note)
1 tablespoon of dried shrimp (weighing about 8g; please see note)
2 tablespoons of roasted unsalted peanuts (around 30g in total), divided
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons of palm sugar (about 35g), softened (please see note)
4 cherry tomatoes, roughly 2 ounces or 60g in weight, halved
2 long beans, approximately 30g, with their ends trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons of fresh lime juice squeezed from 2 limes (about 45ml)
2 tablespoons of fish sauce (approximately 30ml)
2 cups of shredded green papaya, obtained from a single green papaya, which amounts to about 6 ounces or 170g
Sticky rice for serving.
- In a clay or wooden mortar, combine the garlic and chiles. Use a wooden pestle to gently crush them until they are slightly crushed, ensuring that the pestle is as close to the chiles as possible to prevent splattering of chile juices on yourself.This process typically lasts about 30 seconds. Then, add the dried shrimp and 1 tablespoon (15g) of peanuts and continue to gently pound until they are slightly crushed, taking care not to overdo it and form a peanut paste, which should also take about 30 seconds.
- Next, add the palm sugar and continue to lightly pound while simultaneously moving the pestle in a circular motion and applying gentle pressure to help dissolve the palm sugar. This typically requires about 30 seconds. Add the long beans and gently pound them until they are slightly crushed, which should take 15 to 30 seconds. Gently pound the tomatoes just until they release their juices, which should take about 15 seconds.
- Now, add the lime juice and fish sauce, and stir with the pestle using a circular motion until they are well combined, and the palm sugar is completely dissolved, about 15 seconds. Add the green papaya. While holding a large spoon in your non-dominant hand and the pestle in your dominant hand, pound the sides of the mortar (not the center) while simultaneously using the spoon to move the ingredients back and forth in the mortar until the ingredients are well combined, and the green papaya has started to soak up the dressing, about 30 seconds. Be careful not to over-pound the green papaya, as it may lose its crisp texture.
- Finally, add the remaining 1 tablespoon (15g) of peanuts and pound gently just until they are slightly crushed. Transfer the salad to a serving plate and serve immediately with sticky rice.
- You can customize the level of spiciness in this salad to match your taste by either reducing or increasing the quantity of fresh Thai chiles in the recipe. Dried shrimp can be obtained at Asian markets or through online retailers.
- Palm sugar is typically found in Southeast Asian markets, some nationwide supermarkets such as HMart, and online stores. When at room temperature, palm sugar is solid and needs to be softened for it to be incorporated into the dressing. You can soften palm sugar by microwaving it at full power in a microwave-safe bowl for about 15 seconds. If you can’t find palm sugar, you can use an equal amount of light brown sugar as a substitute in this recipe.
- Green papaya is an unripe papaya that appears pale white/green when peeled. Unlike a ripe, orange papaya, green papaya isn’t sweet and has a very crisp texture. You can find detailed instructions on how to shred green papaya here.
Did someone mention som tam? My mouth is already watering! Som tam, the most popular salad in Thailand, translates to “sour pounded.” It’s a refreshing, spicy, sweet, and healthy dish that’s a delightful treat at any time of the day. This dish is one of the signature recipes from Isaan, a vast region in the northeast of Thailand, which is my hometown. Here is a simple and traditional recipe for the classic ‘som tam thai’ that you can whip up quickly and easily any day of the week.
Som tam is crafted by combining shredded, unripe papaya with a mixture of fish sauce, tomatoes, peanuts, sun-dried shrimp, carrots, garlic, and Thai chili peppers. It’s typically served on a small plate, in a pool of its own juices, accompanied by herbs, cabbage leaves, and cucumber on the side. It’s absolutely delicious.