When Liz and I saw green papayas at Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market, I knew two things: That I had to have one, and that I would make Som Ta (Thai Green Papaya Salad) with it. Although I have yet to visit Thailand (it’s on the top of my massive travel bucket list!), this salad is one of my favorite things to order at Thai restaurants. Fresh, shredded green papaya is tossed with tomatoes, string beans, chili pepper, and a sweet and savory dressing for an insanely addictive starter or side.
Green papayas are simply unripe (a fact that should have been obvious to me but wasn’t) so they are crunchier and tarter than their ripe counterparts. Pick a green papaya that is quite firm as it will be shredded and no, ripe red papaya cannot be substituted in this salad. They may as well be two different fruits. In fact, I much prefer both the texture and flavor of green papayas to red ones, as much as I typically adore tropical fruit.
My recipe, while it tasted completely authentic to me, is a bit of a bastardization. The name of the dish translates to “pounded papaya” and rather than mash everything together with a mortar and pestle I simply used a wooden spoon to bruise it. I also used brown sugar instead of palm sugar, omitted dried shrimp, and added a dash of chili oil for some extra heat. For a really sensational tutorial and recipe check out this one over at She Simmers.
This is one delicious salad. The fish sauce and lime juice mean that there’s plenty of acidity and even a bit of lip-puckering sour/savory action. The papaya with cherry tomatoes and string beans is refreshing and full of wonderful, crunchy textures. It’s perfect for this time of year and is even better the next day since all the ingredients are really able to stand up to the dressing. I made a whole Thai-inspired meal to go with this, but it would be an incredible side for grilled meats – it would make a show-stopping addition to a barbecue or potluck.
- 1 large green papaya (about 2 pounds/1 kilo), peeled, seeded, and shredded
- 8 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved
- 4 ounces string beans, trimmed and cut in thirds
- 1 small red hot chili pepper, sliced
- ¼ cup fresh lime juice
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce (omit if vegetarian)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- Zest of 1 lime
- Dash of chili oil (optional)
- ½ cup crushed peanuts
- Put the papaya, tomatoes, string beans, and chili pepper in a large bowl and toss with a wooden spoon, pressing down to bruise the ingredients slightly.
- Put the lime juice, fish sauce, garlic, brown sugar, lime zest, and chili oil, if using, in a bowl and whisk together to combine.
- Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to thoroughly combine.
- Top with crushed peanuts and serve.