Thai Som Tam (Green Papaya Salad)

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I have been on a sabbatical of sorts with occasional bursts of blogging- having been shuttling across California and Texas for the past 18 months. It was a fruitful year and an half, with me back on my feet doing what I love at work , exploring nook and corner of a new state – California and the flip side was the emotional bungee jumping being away from my love. Finally it has come to a stop- much to my relief and Harish’s – I’m back to Dallas and am all smiles like a Cheshire cat. I am so glad to be back at my kitchen – all furnished and ready to whip up delicacies with an eagerness to make up for lost time together. Every evening, back from work, my minds races at so many possibilities as to – how to make dinner special today? πŸ™‚ Well I foresee my weigh scale showing me numbers that I don’t really want to see – but oh well! I have let my heart take control for now and asked my mind to just zip up. I guess Harish and I have earned this well deserved indulgence for now, though I made a promise to myself that it is not going to last for long!

Coming to today’s recipe – Thai food is very close to my heart and the very name of green papaya salad literally makes my mouth water! No – I’m not exaggerating. I simply love love love -read- looooooooooooooove this salad. I have been trying to recreate this salad at home for a while and finally zeroed in on the combination and proportion of dressing that suits my palate. I finally managed to get a vegetarian version of this salad that works for me and now nothing stops me from creating this salad when green papaya’s are in season. And yes- my better half gorges on this, licking the plate clean! – all the more reason that its permanently a part of my household menu !

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Traditionally the Thai dynamic duo: the mortar or khrok and the pestle or sak/saak is used to pound the dressing into the salad. They are the most indispensable tools in the Thai kitchen. You can read more about the Thai mortar and pestle here. Its a variation of the Indian -‘ammi kallu’ πŸ™‚ The dressing for som tam made in Thailand has the fish sauce(nam pla) and dried shrimp added to it. I adapted this to use soy sauce/tamari to make it vegetarian. I made this a few times before I realised the proportion of the ingredients that worked to suit our palate. So don’t be surprised if you don’t find it perfect on the first attempt, learn from it and keep trying till you get your acceptable levels on the tanginess, sweet, sour and heat.

Try this and let me know what you think πŸ™‚

Bon Appetit:)



Green Papaya grated – 1/2 a medium papaya – makes around 3 cups

Cherry tomatoes – a handful halved (if you don’t have cherry tomatoes, use a normal tomato and chop to quaters)

Beans – optional – 2 to 3 strands – (traditionally the long beans are used, but I don’t like them in the salad, so I omitted them)

Basil leaves – a handful – ( half use for dressing and remaining in the salad)

Roasted peanuts – 1/4 to 1/2 cup based on your liking


Fresh lime juice- about 2 to 3 limes – yields about 2 to 4 tablespoons(you can increase or decreases depending on how sour you like it. We prefer the tang of lime and love it, so tend to increase it).

Sugar – 1 tablespoons- increase or decrease based on your preferred level of sweetness (Can use palm or brown sugar – I didn’t have them handy)

Garlic- 1 clove – medium sized

Thai red chilli(Bird’s eye chili orΒ Phrik khi nu)- 1 medium (We like it medium spicy, hence one as thai chillies are quite potent. You can use green chillies in it place, maybe you may need more in that case)

Tamari or soy sauce – 3 to 4 drops (this is the substitute for fish sauce or nam pla that is traditionally added).

Basil leaves shredded – about 1 tbsp.

Salt- to taste(remember soy sauce/tamari has salt content)


First grate the papaya using a grater and added the shredded basil leaves (except reserve a tbsp for dressing) and chill in the refrigerator. This is a very important step as otherwise the salad becomes limp. To be crunchy, chill the salad till the you are ready to toss and serve.

Prepare the dressing – Pound the garlic and thai chilli finely in a mortar and pestle (this brings out the real flavour and I highly recommend you to get a mortar and pestle. It is a must-have if you are a serious cook.) Add the pounded garlic , chilli to a bowl. Add all the ingredients mentioned under ‘Dressings’. Taste to check if it suits the palate. Please note that the measurements I have mentioned above are approximate. You may have to increase or decrease a few ingredients depending on strength of ingredients, palate preferences etc. Sometimes the limes may not be very tangy, or the chilli lacks the desired spiceness etc. So use your judgement to get the desired taste that suits you. Remember that the dressing is going to be tossed with the papaya, so adjust salt, sugar , spice and limes with that in mind.

when you are about ready to serve, first takes the tomatoes – quaters or cherry tomatoes halved – and mix into the dressing and pound lightly so that the tomato juice mixes with that of the dressing and imparts a nice taste. Toss the dressing into the chilled papaya and mix the roasted peanuts. Serve and get complements from everyone πŸ™‚

Note: If you are using long beans, steam them and add to to the papaya mixture and chill. You should also pound them with the dressing so that they have the taste on them.



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