Friday, July 29, 2011

Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam) and Pop

Seven years ago our family had the pleasure of hosting our first exchange student from Thailand (we have since hosted students from Norway, Germany and Saudi Arabia). Her name is Pop and she was a junior in high school at the time. In addition to being a sweet, lovely girl, she is an outstanding cook. Her parents own a restaurant in Bangkok and she truly spoiled us with all she had learned from them.

Prior to Pop living with us, we enjoyed what we thought was spicy food ... that changed after we marveled at Pop’s spice level! Sam and Isaac fondly recall watching in amazement as Pop would cover her pizza slice with a solid layer of crushed red chili peppers. We all increased our love for hot chili peppers, but none of us could ever match Pop!

These days, it's rather hard for us to eat out in Thai restaurants due to the memory of Pop's incredible home cooking. She was a patient, gracious teacher and shared an amazing array of recipes with me. We are fortunate to have some terrific Asian grocery stores in Seattle, and shopping with Pop was quite a fun adventure. And what better way to learn Thai cooking than to watch firsthand in your own kitchen!

My favorite Thai salad that Pop prepared for us is Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam). It is bright, refreshing, spicy and perfect for a warm summer day. If green papaya is unavailable (do not use the yellow/orange sweet fruit papaya), shredded carrots can be substituted. Feel free to increase or decrease the amount of Thai chili peppers to your taste.

Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam)
Adapted from Pop’s notes
Serves 6-8

1 medium sized green papaya (roughly 2 pounds), peeled, seeded and shredded
1 medium carrot, shredded
10 cloves garlic
10 small, Thai chili peppers
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon palm or brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound fresh green beans, ends snipped off and cut in 1 inch lengths
2 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges
1 cup unsalted peanuts, roughly chopped
1 lime, cut into wedges

Combine shredded green papaya and carrot in a medium sized mixing bowl (you can shred with a hand grater or with a food processor).

With a mortar and pestle, pound the chilis and garlic together until soft. Scrape into a small bowl and stir in the lime juice, fish sauce, sugar and salt until well mixed. If desired, you can process in a food processor until smooth. Pour into the green papaya and carrot mix and toss well.

With the mortar and pestle, gently pound the green beans until they are bruised and slightly smushed. Add to the papaya mixture. Sprinkle in about 3/4 cup of the peanuts and toss.

Mound the salad on a serving platter and surround with the tomato and lime wedges to serve. Scatter reserved peanuts on top. Enjoy with a chilled glass of Singha.


  1. Yum! I'm a big fan of crunchy salads and cole slaws. I love Thai food, but I haven't had any in a couple of years, because our local Thai restaurant had a fire. They've just reopened and I need to go get my Thai fix!

  2. @Lauren Hairston
    Oh, what a shame about your Thai restaurant! Happy to hear it's reopening and yes, time to indulge in some Thai cooking. :)

  3. I love thai food, your salad sounds amazing

  4. @Sylvia
    Thank you, Sylvia! It's a great salad for summer heat and I hope you enjoy it.

  5. Yum! Green papaya salad is my all time favourite food! I could happily eat it everyday :-)

  6. @my darling lemon thyme
    I agree! I stocked up on green papaya so I hope my family is as happy as I am to eat it a few times this week.


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