What is Som Tum Thai Salad?
Som Tum Thai Salad is a heavy hitter on most Thai restaurant menu's. This is a simple fresh salad made with green papaya dressed with lime, sugar, birds eye chili. It's sweet sour salty and crunchy. It's a great texture dish and easy side.
What does Som Tum mean in English?
Som Tum refers to two things. The first is "som". Som literally means sour. While sour isn't a common flavor in western cuisine, in Asia it's one of the defining flavor profiles. That sour flavor is delivered by a variety of ingredients. It can be in the form of tamarind, a pod-like fruit with a sour pulp, or in the form of limes and lime juice or even ferments or vinegar.
The second part "tum" refers to the sound of the mortar hitting the pestal. The mortar and pestal is the original food processor from ancient times. A stone or ceramic bowl and a blunt object to grind the ingredients. In this recipe traditionally the ingredients are ground together to make the dressing.
Choosing your papaya
You can find green papaya at the asian market. Make sure its dark green and feels heavy. Any yellow spots and it may be beginning to ripen. While the green ones may not be sweet they have a great crunchy texture perfect for this dish.
How to make Som Tum Thai Salad with Green Papaya
This is my simple som tum thai salad. It may be more traditional to add long beans the long asian green bean and tomato. You can even add dried shrimp or crab if you're into that. I like to keep mine bare bones by just incorporating herbs and the dressing.
First peel the green papaya. I peel mine with a Kuhn Rikon y-peeler. For many chefs it is the only peeler.
At this point there is a couple options depending on your knife skills. You can either grate it on all sides using a box grater to shred it into thin strands. Switch to another side once you get to the seeds.
If you have some knife skills it's also good to just cut by hand. I first learned this dish while I was cooking on tour. The other chefs who traveled to Thailand told me stories of how they just hack it with a machete. I like to go somewhere in the middle and shave it into planks with a mandolin then cut it by hand.
After shredded or slicing your green papaya set it aside. Make your dressing. In a mortar and pestal smash and combine the single birds eye chili, garlic clove, lime juice and fish sauce. Make sure you massage the lime and roll it on the table before you squeeze it to get the most juice. Be careful with the chili unless you have a very high heat tolerance just one will light you up.
Som Tum Thai Salad with Green Papaya
- Mortar and pestal
- A peeler
- 1 ea Green Papaya
- 2 tbsp Roasted Peanuts roughly chopped
- 1 ea Mint Sprig torn
- 2 tbsp Palm Sugar substitute brown sugar if you don't have it
- 1 ea birds eye chili small red chili also known as thai chili
- 1 ea Garlic Clove
- 1 ea Lime massaged and squeezed for its juice
- 2 tbsp Fish Sauce
- Peel the green papaya
- Shred the green papaya by either using a box grater or by shaving planks with a knife or mandolin into thin strips.
- Combine all ingredients in a mortar and pestal. If you don't have one just minced the garlic and chili and whisk to combine with the other ingredients.
- Dress the shredded papaya in the dressing.
- Top with roasted peanuts and torn mint. Enjoy!