Papaya Salad (Som Tam)

Award-winning chef Andy Ricker teaches you how to make the famous Thai salad as you've never had it before, with a perfect balance of sweet, sour, spicy, and salty. Bonus: Learn how to shred papaya the way they do at roadside stands in Thailand! We've never seen anything like it.
Save Recipe
  • Level: Intermediate
  • Total: 45 min
  • Active: 15 min
  • Yield: 2 servings
Share This Recipe

Ingredients

1 green papaya

2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

4 red Thai chiles, stems removed

1 ounce Palm sugar, soften for 10 seconds in microwave

1 key lime, quartered

1 tablespoon medium-sized dried shrimp, rinse, pat dry, then dry-fry in a skillet over medium heat until crispy, 5 minutes

3 Long beans

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 tablespoon tamarind water (naam makham) OR 2 Tbsp tamarind pulp, to make tamarind water from tamarind pulp, see note in Step 3

1 tablespoon lime juice, preferably from key limes

6 cherry tomatoes

2 tablespoons unsalted peanuts, roasted in a 350 degrees F oven for 5 minutes

2-inch wedge of cabbage, for garnish

Directions

  1. Cut off both ends of papaya. Use a vegetable peeler to remove green skin. To shred the papaya, hold it in one hand and use a knife to rapidly chop long, shallow cuts into the surface (making sure all the cuts run lengthwise, in the same direction). Then, thinly slice off the top layer into a bowl. This Thai method of shredding results in papaya strands that are pleasingly irregular and rustic. (Once you get the hang of it, it gets easier and you'll get much faster, but another option is to use a peeler with a shredding blade.) Shred ⅓–½ of the papaya, about 2 loosely packed cups; make sure there are no seeds.(Reserve the rest of the papaya for a different use, or for additional servings of papaya salad.)
  2. Salad: Place the clay mortar on a towel to keep it stable. To the mortar, add garlic, chiles, and softened palm sugar. Using a long spoon (to mix) and the pestle (to pound), pound and mix the chiles and garlic to break them up, about 10 seconds. Add two quartered pieces of Key lime, and continue pounding and mixing just enough to release juices, 10 seconds. (From this point on, pound lightly to bruise the ingredients and release flavors; do not smash.) Add shrimp; pound lightly, then mix for 5 seconds.
  3. Trim the long beans and slice into 2½-inch pieces; you should have about ¼ cup of long beans. Add to the mortar; pound lightly to bruise, then mix for 5 more seconds. Add papaya, fish sauce, tamarind water, and lime juice. (To make tamarind water from tamarind pulp: boil 1 cup water and 2 tablespoons tamarind pulp; let cool for 30 minutes; strain.) Use the pestle to lightly pound the salad to the bottom of the mortar, and the spoon to turn the salad over, about 1 minute. Add halved cherry tomatoes, lightly pound, then mix, 10 seconds; add peanuts and toss with the spoon. (Do not pound the peanuts, as they will release oil and make the salad greasy).
  4. Serve: Place cabbage wedge on the edge of a serving platter. Arrange papaya salad on platter and serve immediately.

Cook’s Note

Preparing the papaya and remaining ingredients can be done several hours in advance, but save the final assembly in the mortar until just before serving.