Green papaya salad is a great example of creativity and ingenuity. This South Asian recipe outlines exactly how we turn unripe, sometimes bitter fruit, into a divinely delicious, delectable dish. Buckle up and get ready for a flavor bonanza!
Green papaya salad, called som tum, is a fiercely fresh, fruity, and sensationally spicy dish from the world of Asian Cuisine. It is fruity, tangy, tart, crunchy, spicy, and simply irresistible. The first time I ate this (seated at a long table sharing family-style) I had no idea what it was and soon realized it was green mango. I was hooked after the first bite!
Every culture and climate along the Silk Road has its own treasures to offer — especially when it comes to fruit-infused recipes. We have mouthwatering Mediterranean recipes like Vinegar Chicken with Orange and Cherries as well as Indian-inspired recipes like this Mango Chutney Recipe or Cranberry Apple Chutney.
Table of Contents
Make a batch of this crunchy, spicy and sweet salad and you’ll never look back!
- Green Papayas – These unripe papayas offer a mild, neutral flavor as is. When combined with the ingredients of this som tum recipe, they take on the refreshing flavor of cucumbers.
- Asian Green Beans – Offer a clean asparagus-like flavor and a crispy texture. Substitute with fresh green beans, also known as string beans, but not canned!
- Cherry Tomatoes – These tomatoey morsels offer a sharp, snappy, and concentrated tomato flavor. Plum or grape tomatoes will also work.
- Chili Peppers – Bird’s Eye or Fresno chili peppers are my favorite choice.
- Garlic Cloves – Add a fresh, peppery zestiness that is impossible to beat.
- Roasted Peanuts – Be sure to use roasted nuts for the toastiest, most comforting flavor possible.
- Brown Sugar – Adds a balancing dash of sweetness. Palm sugar will work just as well (as seen in photo below).
- Lime Juice – Cuts through any bitterness and brightens the recipe with a blast of sweetly-sour citrus flavor.
- Fish Sauce – Delivers a dose of briny, salty, intensely savory flavor. In a pinch, soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce can be used as a sub.
- Tamarind Concentrate – This ingredient adds a unique tanginess, tartness, sourness, and sweetness. If necessary, vinegar, lemon juice, or Worcestershire sauce can be used as a replacement.
- Dried Shrimp – Brings a salty, fishy, umami flavor to the mix.
- Fresh Herbs – Use fresh Thai basil leaves or micro cilantro leaves to enhance your som tum even more.
- Peel the Papayas. Use a standard vegetable peeler to remove the soft, dark green skin on the outside of the papayas. Cut the fruit into halves and scoop out the seeds with a spoon.
- Shred & Soak. Use a mandoline shredder to finely shred the papaya. Transfer the shreds to a bowl, cover with ice water, and set aside to soak for 10-15 minutes. This will help the fruit get more firm.
- Prep the Veggies. Cut the cherry tomatoes into halves. Trim the ends off the Asian green beans before cutting them into 2-inch pieces.
- Crush the Chilis & Garlic. Use a mortar and pestle to crush the chili peppers and garlic cloves into a paste. If desired, you can use a knife instead, finely dicing the chilis and mincing the garlic cloves.
- Combine & Press. Toss the green beans, tomatoes, and half of peanuts into the mix. Use a wooden spoon or a pestle and mortar to crush and bruise the ingredients slightly.
- Sweeten, Season, & Stir. Now add the brown sugar or palm sugar, the fish sauce, tamarind concentrate, lime juice, and dried shrimp to the mortar or a bowl and stir to mix thoroughly.
- Drain the Papaya. Use a colander to drain the soaked papaya shreds. Transfer them to a paper towel-lined bowl to help soak up any excess moisture. After that, place the papaya in the serving bowl.
- Drizzle, Dress & Serve. Cover the papaya with the sauce mixture, tossing to coat evenly and thoroughly. You can enjoy green papaya salad immediately or pop it in the refrigerator to chill first. Top your salad with lime wedges, the rest of the roasted peanuts, and a handful of Thai basil or micro cilantro greens.
What is Som Tum?
Som tum means “pounded sour” in Thai. This dish was first served in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos before making its way to Thailand. In traditional recipes, the ingredients are “pounded” in a deep mortar with long pestle and the papaya as well with a large knife to shred it, which is how it got its Thai name!
Green papayas, aka unripe papayas, are a common ingredient in South Asian cuisine. They can be enjoyed raw, like in this recipe for green papaya salad, or cooked. There are recipes that feature green papaya boiled, sauteed, steamed, baked, and more.
While green papaya salad is a great example of how to enjoy raw green papaya, there are a few important points to consider. Pregnant women and anyone with a latex allergy should avoid raw papaya. There are chemicals in the fruit that may be detrimental to your health.
Ripe papayas offer a sweet, melon-like flavor and a buttery texture. Unripe papayas, however, are a different story. The skin, seeds, and flesh of a green papaya will often exhibit an undesirable, bitter flavor.
Luckily, this green papaya salad has everything needed to counteract the bitterness. Between the sour lime juice, spicy chili peppers, and sweet brown sugar, the bitterness of the green papaya is easily balanced, and crunchy!
Som Tum, or green papaya salad, pairs perfectly with a surprising number of dishes. Check out some of these easy recipes for inspiration:
– Rice dishes like sticky rice, Lemon Rice, or this Mediterranean Rice Pilaf Recipe.
– Alongside Thai dishes like Gai Yang Chicken (Thai BBQ), Thai Baked Halibut, or Thai Yellow Shrimp Curry.
– Use it to brighten up your beef recipes like this Mongolian Beef Stir Fry, Broccoli Beef Stir Fry, or this recipe for Sticky Asian Short Ribs.
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Green Papaya Salad (Som Tum Thai)
- 2 green papayas (4 cups shredded)
- 6 long Asian green beans
- 8 cherry tomatoes cut in half
- 3 Birds Eye chile or red Fresno chile
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1/2 cup roasted peanuts divided
- 1/4 cup brown sugar or palm sugar
- 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 1 tsp tamarind concentrate
- 1/3 cup dried shrimp
- 1/2 cup Thai basil leaves or micro cilantro greens
- Peel the dark green skin off using a standard vegetable peeler (the skin is quite soft), then cut in half and remove the seeds using a spoon. Now finely shred using a mandoline shredder. Transfer to a bowl and soak in ice water for 10-15 minutes until they are firmer.
- Trim the ends off the green beans and cut into 2-inch pieces. Cut the tomatoes in half.
- Using a mortar crush the red chile and garlic to a paste with the pestle. Alternately, you can dice the red chile fine and mince the garlic if preferred.
- Add the green beans, tomatoes, half the peanuts and crush slightly to bruise using pestle (or wooden spoon) in mortar.
- Add the brown sugar or palm sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, tamarind juice and dried shrimp to mortar or bowl and mix thoroughly.
- Drain the soaked papaya well and place in a bowl lined with paper towels to absorb excess water. Transfer to serving bowl.
- Pour sauce mixture over shredded papaya, tossing to coat and mix thoroughly. Chill if preferred or serve immediately with slices of lime and garnish with remaining peanuts and chopped Thai basil or micro cilantro on top.
The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.