Friday, 11 March 2011

som tum

[I am posting this recipe earlier than I had planned so I don't yet have photos - I will come back and add them next time I make this dish. In the mean time you can go look at this search in Flickr for some other people's photos.]

Som tum (green papaya salad) is one of my favourite salads. It is crunchy and crisp and salty and sour and full of stuff that's good for you, and not much stuff that isn't. In Thailand it is traditionally served with sticky rice and gai yang (grilled chicken) or laab in the Isaan region and in Lao, but nowadays can be found all over Thailand from specialist som tum hawkers at lunch time. I ate it a lot when we lived there. A lot.

Som tum (or tam is it is sometimes translated) is made in a large, tall mortar and pestle with deft skill. The papaya is held in one hand and then cut into very fine matchsticks using repeated blows of a large machete like knife (I've tried doing it and while I escaped injury, I can tell you, I certainly didn't achieve the desired effect!!). The papaya and other ingredients are then lightly pounded to mix the flavours and break up any fibrous bits in the papaya. The heat from the chili is controlled by the degree of pounding - the more the chili is broken up the hotter the salad will be. I don't have a large mortar and pestle so I tend to grate the papaya, and just add the flavourings to the mortar and pestle and mix it together in the bowl.

There are variations on the basic dish which can include the addition of fresh cooked prawns or crab, and a very bland version where the dried prawns are excluded, though I think this last is generally for the benefit of foreigners with a dislike for strong flavour and usually means they leave out most or all of the chili too.

A green papaya is an under ripe version of the fruit we generally call paw paw here - not a little under ripe either. Although my Thai friend says it should be a little yellow to be best do not think you can buy a regular papaya from the grocer that just isn't fully ripe. Source a proper hard green papaya from the Asian grocer and leave it on the window sill for a day or two.

Again, in Thailand this dish is generally served pretty spicy and diluted with lots of rice.

Som Tum (green papaya salad)
1.5 cups of peeled, seeded and grated green papaya (about half a smallish one or a quarter of a big one)
8 cherry tomatoes, quartered or a whole tomato cut into chunks
2 whole cloves of garlic peeled
1 tbs dried shrimp
4 snake beans* cut into 3cm sticks
2 tbs salted peanuts
1 lime,  juiced
1.5 tbs palm sugar
1.5 tbs fish sauce
2 small red chilies

Put the grated papaya and tomato into a bowl. In the mortar and pestle pound the garlic and shrimp into it is broken up but not mushy. Add the beans and peanuts and pound a bit more. Add the sugar, fish sauce and lime - starting with about two thirds the amounts. mix well. Add the chilies and pound - just once or twice for a mild flavour, harder for more heat. Tip the mix into the bowl and stir to combine. Taste and top up sugar, lime and fish sauce to balance.

*you can use green beans, but they are not the same at all. Green beans are shorter and much juicier, as well as tasting different. The drier pulpier texture of snake beans absorbs the flavours way better, especially with a little pounding in the mortar and pestle. And since you have to go to the Asian grocer to get the green papaya get some snake beans while you are there.


Ashley said...

I've tried looking (and asking) for green papaya in the asian grocer (little saigon in Footscray) but never been able to locate it - is there somewhere specific you're able to get it? is it in season at a particular time? I've wanted to make this for ages!

Absorbent mats said...

I prepared it on this last Sunday. It is very best and too much good dish. My family like it very much.