Somtum (spicy green papaya salad)
Photo by Tam West
This recipe is by chef Lek Trirattanavatin from Ponsonby's Saan: “Somtum is a traditional dish widely made in the North Eastern region of Thailand (Isaan). People from Isaan are mostly farmers, and they usually gather together after farming as a large communal group to have lunch or dinner. Because they work hard in very hot weather, they want dishes that are easy to make and refreshing, and somtum is a vital dish with every meal. It’s very tasty and goes well with sticky rice, which gives these farmers substantial energy for hard labour. They have also found that green papaya contains very high levels of vitamin C, which helps with their immune system. I was always the one to go forage for papaya and other ingredients in the backyard for my grandma’s somtum.”
Read more on chef Lek and Saan in our feature: From my home to yours.
- Pound the garlic and chilli in a medium-large mortar until they break up.
- Add snake beans, then pound slightly.
- Mix through fish sauce, soft palm sugar, lime juice.
- Add shredded green papaya, tomatoes, toasted peanuts and dried shrimps, pound lightly and mix thoroughly.
- Find soft palm sugar at Asian grocers, or substitute with hard palm sugar.
- Find green papaya at Asian grocers. The imported long, green unripe papaya (or pawpaw) can also often be found at your local greengrocer. Ask if you do not see any. Papayas are often bought unripe and left to ripen before being sold. Green papaya has a foamy/crispy texture but little flavour so it carries dressings well. If you are not close to Asian markets, substitute with a crisp mild vegetable such as cucumber or kohlrabi which is just coming into season. Papaya will keep well in the fridge for about two weeks wrapped in a paper towel and stored in a plastic bag.
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