This is one of my favorite Thai dishes - that crunchy, fresh, shrimpy salad slathered in lime, fish sauce, cilantro, and Thai basil. It's also one of those foods I never thought to make on my own. Instead, I reserved it for infrequent visits to Thai restaurants and Thai Buddhist temple brunches. Until I found a place where I can buy fresh green papaya in San Francisco.
As the name implies, green papaya is basically an unripe papaya. They sell fresh green papaya at the Manila Oriental Market in San Francisco, in whole and shredded form. I got a bag of already-shredded green papaya and took my treasure home and made fresh green papaya salad. If your local Asian markets don't carry this, you can buy it online here. If you simply cannot find green papaya, don't worry. Just substitute shredded carrots or mung bean sprouts. These will have the same "crunch" and will carry the dressing very well.
Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam)
1 small green papaya peeled, seeded, and grated or 3 cups of pre-shredded green papaya
1 cup mung bean sprouts
3 green scallions, sliced thin
1/2 cup fresh Thai basil chopped roughly
1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro
1 to 2 small tomatoes, cut in strips (optional)
1/2 cup raw peanuts, crushed
1 to 2 tablespoons of dried shrimp
1 red Thai chili pepper, sliced thinly - adjust amounts to the spice level you desire.
1 1/2 tablespooms sugar
2 limes, juiced
1 clove garlic, chopped fine
2 to 3 tablespoons fish sauce
Combine all the dressing ingredients in a bowl and crush with a pestle or the back of a spoon to release the flavors. Taste. Adjust the fish sauce to your liking - I prefer more so I usually add extra fish sauce. Add the chiles bit by bit until you get the spice level you can handle.
Add the other ingredients and toss well. Taste and adjust the lime juice or fish sauce if needed.
Top with crushed peanuts. Enjoy! This keeps well and was still good the next day; the flavors were more concentrated.
(Image: Kathryn Hill)