They say som tam is heaven on its own, but this salad of crisp unripe papaya ribbons and spicy lime dressing also creates the perfect base for seared prawns, sliced beef or sticky pork belly. The pounding of the ingredients is key; even though most of us don’t own a Thai clay mortar and pestle you can improvise with a big bowl and the flat end of a rolling pin. Pounding infuses the flavour into the papaya and softens it. Three small bird’s eye chillies will make your salad spicy but not eyeball-popping hot. Feel free to adjust the number to your liking.
Cut the papaya in half lengthways and scrape out the seeds with a spoon. Using a julienne tool or a large grater, coarsely shred the flesh. If you’re using a box grater, use it on the side of the sink to get long fat shreds of the papaya. Discard the inner part of the fruit and set aside the shredded green papaya.
Pound the garlic and chilli in a large mortar and pestle for 1 minute or until coarsely crushed (it should still have chunks and not be a paste). Add the papaya, carrot and beans and gently pound a little more. Add the lime juice, palm sugar and fish sauce and pound again for another minute. Add the tomato and taste to make sure it has enough fish sauce and sugar, it should be tangy, sweet and spicy. Place on a platter, scatter the nuts over the top and serve immediately.
For a meat-eaters’ variation, serve with chunky pieces of Sticky Pork
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