I have finally reattempted this refreshing salad after tasting all the som tum (Thai green papaya salad) that I could in Perth before going raw — and then chancing upon a pristine pile of organic green papayas at Organic on Charles. I documented my first som tum adventure in February 2009 and, looking back, I find it pretty embarrassing.
What embarrasses me is the fact that I overcomplicated the flavours and tried to manicure the salad. I missed the beautiful, smashed simplicity of the dish.
For me, Thai cuisine is characterised by its freshness and pungent qualities (in the nicest possible way!). A dish is often balanced in multiple directions, and this is epitomised in the hot, sour, sweet, salty and bitter flavours you find in som tum.
Papaya (or pawpaw) is so full of goodness; aside from being high in vitamin C, folic acid, flavonoids, carotenes, and potassium, papaya is an anti-parasitic and is beneficial for cardiovascular health. Green papaya is especially good for you because it is rich in papain, an enzyme that stimulates and aids digestion.
Since going raw, I have really missed Thai flavours. Now I am so excited to find that I don’t have to go without them. I made this dish without fish sauce to keep it raw and vegan-friendly. It’s darn close to the flavour combination I know and love and I hope you like it too.
Recipe #106: Vegan som tum. Serves 3-4 adults as a light meal or 8+ as a side.
You will need:
► 1 clove garlic
► 2-3 bird’s eye chillis [I used 3 chillis and it was pretty fiery]
► 2 limes
► 2 tablespoons of (unrefined) palm sugar [try to source this ethically…]
► 2 tsp tamarind puree, mixed into ~1/8 cup of water = something like tamarind juice
► 2+ tbsp tamari [or you can use soy sauce. Add more or less to taste; this adds the saltiness to the dish, which you will need in the absence of fish sauce]
► 2 large red tomatoes, sliced into matchsticks [yes, this does create a lot of juice — use that in the salad too]
► ½ green papaya, peeled and shredded [if you don’t have a mandolin-type slicer, you can grate the papaya, or score the flesh then cut across it finely]
► 12 snake beans, finely sliced on the diagonal
► 1 small handful of coriander leaves, roughly chopped
I used a mortar and pestle to make this dish and it’s seriously therapeutic! After prepping the ingredients as shown above and placing them in separate bowls, the first thing I did was pound the garlic and chillis together. I added a few pinches of the tomato and papaya to the mortar and smashed everything together, then I set this dressing to one side in a separate bowl.
I juiced the two limes into the dressing then quartered the lime skins and pounded them with palm sugar in the mortar and pestle. I added the tamarind juice to this mix, removed the lime skins and ground/stirred with the pestle until the sugar dissolved; I added this mix and the tamari to the bowl of dressing.
I combined the rest of the tomato and papaya with the beans in a large bowl, tipped the dressing over the top of everything and added the coriander. It smelt awesome and tasted just as good.
I was so happy with the way my vegan version worked out! The only thing missing for me was the texture of crushed peanuts atop the salad, because I don’t really want to eat them raw.
Please try this recipe for yourself and let me know how you enjoy it!