Last week I was lucky enough to visit the Paddington Community Garden. Tucked away behind Trumper Park and The Palms Tennis Centre, it’s a thriving oasis of individual and communal plots producing an enviable array of organic fruits, vegetables and herbs. From the Asian herb garden I came away with an armload of gorgeous bounty. Just picked green papaya, lime, turmeric, galangal, ginger, lemongrass and curry leaves. I have enjoyed many a refreshing Thai Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam) over the years and here was my opportunity to recreate the dish at home.
Papaya is a staple ingredient of many South East Asian cuisines, used as a vegetable when green and crunchy and as a fruit when the flesh is soft and ripe with a burnished orange hue. My green pear shaped papaya were plucked from a small, thin palm-like tree, but they are readily available from most Asian grocers, usually tucked away with yams, taro and sweet potato. Deliciously crisp and tart, the green papaya shreds combine beautifully with a sweet, salty, spicy and slightly sour dressing to make an incredibly refreshing salad. In Asia this salad is known as ‘Som Tam ‘ which literally translates as “pounded sour’ and perhaps refers to its preparation using a mortar and pestle.
I’m happy to report that this fresh and vibrant salad also fits the bill for perfect 5-2 fast day fare at just 135 calories for a very generous and filling cup serve. A happy and almost accidental discovery given that I did not tally the calories until after I had inhaled a rather large plateful.
Som Tam. Thai Green Papaya Salad
Serves 6 (135 calories per generous cup serve)
2 medium green (unripe) papaya (238 calories)
finely grated zest of one lime (2 calories)
1/2 cup Asian snake beans or substitute green beans (17 calories)
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes (14 calories)
2 large cloves garlic (8 calories)
3-4 red Thai bird’s eye (bullet) chillies (72 calories).
2 tablespoons dried Thai shrimp, optional (108 calories)
2 tablespoons palm sugar, shaved or substitute brown sugar (90 calories)
freshly squeezed ljuice of two limes (20 calories)
1/4 cup Thai fish sauce, nam pla (24 calories)
1/4 cup coriander leaves, coarsely shredded (4 calories)
1/4 cup mint leaves, coarsely shredded (4 calories)
1/4 cup unsalted peanuts, toasted, one tablespoon reserved for garnish (207 calories)
PEEL the papaya using a standard vegetable peeler, then use a julienne peeler, mandolin or box grater to shred the papaya into long shreds. You should have 6 generous cups of papaya shreds. Place into a large bowl.
FINELY grate the zest of one lime over the papaya shreds. Toss gently to combine. Set aside.
TOP and tail beans, then slice into 2-3 cm lengths. Slice the cherry tomatoes in half. Using a mortar and pestle lightly crush until the beans are just bruised and the tomatoes are beginning to release their juices. Set aside in a separate bowl.
POUND the garlic and chillies in a mortar and pestle until they form a smooth paste. Add dried shrimp and shaved palm sugar, and continue to pound until the sugar has dissolved. THEN ADD peanuts and lightly pound to the point that they are crushed into small pieces but still retain their texture and crunch.
STIR through fish sauce and fresh lime juice. The dressing should be sweet, salty, spicy and sour. Adjust to taste, as required, using a little more lime juice, sugar and fish sauce.
POUR the dressing over the shredded papaya. Toss until all the shreds are well coated.
THEN ADD the beans, tomatoes and coarsely shredded herbs to the bowl. Toss gently to combine. Set aside for 10 minutes to allow the flavours to develop.
TO SERVE pile the salad into a mound in the centre of a platter. Sprinkle over a tablespoon of crushed peanuts for garnish.