Although I couldn’t find one today, I have a deep appreciation for a som tom (Thai green papaya) salad shredder. They save you precious minutes and lots of effort, and always produce the ideal texture and shape for the dish. If you don’t eat this kind of salad often, you probably don’t have this handy ‘lil tool in your kitchen. But if you do venture into Thai cuisine-land, it’s absolutely priceless.
Although I am hooked on the traditional recipe from my teaching time there, I sometimes use agave when I can’t find palm sugar and always cut out the dried shrimp. It’s fun to experiment with using jicama or green mango if you can’t find green papaya (surprisingly an issue for us today!). Here are some recipe directions from ThaiTable.com:
Green papaya salad is the most popular dish among women in Thailand according to a survey I heard on TV there. It is a Northeastern food that is eaten with sticky rice and other Northeastern dishes such as laab, beef salad and bamboo shoot salad.
The two most popular types of green papaya salad have either dried shrimp or salted crab. Green papaya salad with dried shrimp and peanuts is called som tum thai. The green papaya salad with salted crab is called som tum pbooh. The majority of the ingredients are the same. My mother likes it with both dried shrimp and salted crab.
Tips and Techniques
- For a vegetarian som tum, omit the dried shrimp and substitute soy sauce for fish sauce.
- Some people use tamarind in place of lime. Regular sugar can be substituted for palm sugar. I normally omit the peanuts because I prefer it without.
- The balance of fish sauce, lime juice, palm sugar and peppers listed here are guidelines. Som tum is an individual dish that you will find you might like yours with more, say, lime juice than what the recipe calls for.
Many Asian supermarkets have pre-shredded green papaya and that is what I use. However, if you can only find whole green papaya, the papaya can be peeled and shredded using a regular cheese grater with medium to large sized holes. Or if you can find a papaya shredder, it works wonder. When you get closer to the center, you will see the white immature seeds inside. Stop and move onto another part of the papaya. Discard any seeds that got into your bowl. If you have a food processor with grater, you can shred the papaya faster.
In Thailand, green papaya salad is made using a clay mortar, wooden pestle and a spatula. Smash a clove of garlic first. Then add green beans and halved cherry tomatoes. Pound a few times just to bruise the beans and get the juice out of the tomatoes. Add chili peppers and crush them just enough to release the hotness, unless you like your salad really hot. Add the green papaya, dried shrimp, toasted peanuts, fish sauce, lime juice and palm sugar. Use the pestle to push the mixture up in the mortar and the spatula to push it down so that the mixture is mixed well.
However, if you do not have a big enough mortar you can crush garlic, tomatoes, green beans. Set them aside in a large bowl. Add dried shrimp, fish sauce, lime juice and palm sugar to the bowl. Add green papaya and mix well. Serve with sticky rice and a sliver of cabbage, green beans and Thai basil.
For som tum pbooh, omit the dried shrimp and toasted peanuts and add salted crabs instead. I microwave the salted crabs for 30 seconds before adding them to the papaya salad to kill any residual bacteria. Add only half of the fish sauce called for because the salted crab can be quite salty.