Monday, July 28, 2008

Som Tam

Green papaya salad – a great Thai staple and a surprisingly easy dish to make. It’s often served blisteringly hot and I prefer things much milder, so do feel free to double the chili count in the recipe below if you like food that makes you sniff uncontrollably. I’ve messed around a lot with various sugars: the Thai version uses palm sugar but if you can’t get hold of it (ie: if you don’t live near Sharjah’s Thai-Tastic Green House Supermarket) then just use jaggery. You’ll find jaggery in pretty much every supermarket in the Emirates – it’s a soft, brown unrefined sugar from India and has the same deep, caramel richness as palm sugar. Similarly, you’ll find long beans in pretty much any supermarket, but certainly Spinneys’ Sri Lankan freshies section. If you can't get long beans, though, just use ‘dwarf’ or ‘French’ beans – you’re aiming for around 50g of bean in all!

The key to this recipe is the pounding of it. If you’ve got a nice, heavy granite Thai pestle and mortar, you’re laughing. If you don’t, then there’s another reason to head off to the Green House Supermarket! (You’d think I was being paid to plug ‘em, wouldn’t you?) If you really don’t have access to a large pestle and mortar, then you’ll have to use a strong bowl, a substantial wooden spoon and a lot of ‘oomph’ to crush, bruise and generally bully and be damnably horrid to the ingredients.

Now last, and not least, to yer papaya. Again, Spinneys (and many other supermarkets, particularly the likes of Lal’s) sells green papayas, which are basically unripe papayas. You’re looking to skin this, halve it and scrape out the seeds and then slice it as finely as you can, ideally using something culinary and dangerous like a mandolin. The Thai traditional method is just to hack away at it with a sharp knife. Whichever potentially lethal way you decide on to turn that hard papaya into delicate strands, watch your fingers!


  • 1 green papaya, julienned
  • 1 bird’s eye chilli, quartered
  • 50 g jaggery or palm sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic, quartered
  • 6 long beans, chopped in 2cm lengths
  • 6 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 30g roasted peanuts, chopped
  • 2 tsp nam pla
  • 3 tbsp lime juice

Put the chilli and garlic into the mortar and crush it like you would crush your worst enemy. Imagine you're a hood in Layer Cake or Lock Stock. Give it some welly. Be brutal, mean and generally beastly until it’s all pulped. Now add the jaggery, fish sauce and lime juice and give that a quick smack around the head too, to mix it all in. Add the beans and give them a quick slap around the ear to teach 'em some respect.

Add the papaya and give it a series of hard presses to bruise it, stirring it to ensure it gets an even, and sound, warning. Don’t go too far, or you’ll go and kill it. You’re not meant to be as brutal as the first crushing: the idea is to let the other ingredients infuse and mix together with the papaya. But don't be a pansy about it, either, or it'll think it can mess you about any time it wants.

Now add the tomatoes and press them, again going lighter than last time: just a hint of trouble just in case they think they can get away with that sort of thing in your manor. Mix it all up well, decant into your chosen serving dishes and you’re away!

This, of course, is a neat salad to serve alongside a couple of piping hot and aromatic chicken patties!


Susan said...

Directions to Thai Green House please :-) Love the pestle and mortar!

alexander... said...

The Green House supermarket is just off Jamal AbdelNasser Street in Sharjah - the road that runs parallel to Al Wahda Street. It's the second or third turning after the road Pizza Hut's on as you drive towards the park off Buheira corniche, I can never remember which turning though. It's on the right hand side - looks quite run down and 'cold storeish'.

They keep ice in the freezers for customers to pack their shopping with because people go there from Al Ain and everywhere to pick up their Thai freshies!

You can call 'em on 06 533 5259 for better directions!

And just to be clear - I have no link to 'em whatsoever, just a happy customer! :)

Susan said...

Thanks for that! I'll be in Sharjah far too often in the next couple of weeks so one day I'll take a wee detour and find it!

Got a lemonggrass growing out of control in the garden so I need to do some Thai cooking!