A version of som tam – Thai green papaya salad
I am a self-confessed som tam FIEND. I LOVE the stuff. I love it all the time really, but I suppose I especially hanker after it when I’ve been eating too much rich food. It’s just got all my favourite spicy, sour, sharp, refreshing, gorgeous flavours going in in every single mouthful.
So today – after yesterday’s all-afternoon lunch marathon involving oysters, mussels in cream and bacon, chips, bread, cheese … you get the picture – I even woke up thinking ‘yup, today’s a definite som tam day’.
After a couple of cups of coffee and some fruit, the ‘buts’ started entering my head. BUT I need green papaya to make som tam. BUT I need sour mango if I can’t get green papaya. BUT I really can’t be bothered to get on the bus and go to the Thai supermarket especially because BUT I don’t want to leave the house today (except to walk the dog).
And then I remembered something important:
NO ONE IS GOING TO DIE IF YOU CHANGE IT UP A BIT.
NO ONE IS GOING TO REPORT YOU TO THE SOM TAM POLICE FOR NOT USING GREEN PAPAYA.
SO WHY DON’T YOU SEE WHAT YOU HAVE IN THE FRIDGE?
And, in the fridge – hurrah- were birds eye chillies, a courgette, carrots, half a green pepper and best of all, some fine green beans (which you really do need). I basically have everything to make som tam except the green papaya.
Have it with any mix of finely sliced veg that you think will work. Experiment. Have it on its own, have it with sticky rice, have it with steamed rice, have it with grilled fish or chicken, but do please just have it.
Ok, so to make a nice big plateful from what I had, I used:
2 tablespoons (measure it, don’t just use an enormous serving spoon) light brown sugar, or white if you don’t have any. I could only find golden caster sugar in the cupboard today so used that and it worked out fine – plus 3 tablespoons water
1-2 birds eye chillies – I like it very spicy so used two, and it was, so do just use one if you’re not so keen on chillies
1 big or 2 smaller garlic cloves
approx 1 tablespoon dried shrimp (optional but really makes a difference! If you can get hold of a packet, they keep forever in the freezer and are so tiny they defrost in a couple of minutes. And you can put them in your Pad Thai too)
around 2 tablespoons peanuts
In place of the green papaya, 1 carrot, 1 courgette and 1/2 a green pepper (you could also try red pepper or cucumber here too, but have a mix)
a handful of green beans
6-8 tiny tomatoes, or just slice or quarter some regular size ones
1.5 tablespoons fish sauce
0.5 – 1 limes (to taste)
Put the sugar and water in a small pan, bring to a simmer on the lowest possible heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Simmer for a minute then switch off and set aside to cool.
Then prepare the other ingredients: peel the garlic; chop the peanuts; very finely slice or julienne the vegetables that are replacing the green papaya; and cut the green beans into approx 1 inch lengths.
Do peel the veg too and remove the seeds of cucumbers, and leave out the core of courgettes.
Put the sliced vegetables in cold water or add a few ice cubes to keep them fresh.
Crush the chillies and garlic in a pestle and mortar – you want them in small pieces but not a complete mush.
Add the dried shrimp and give them a bash too …
Then add the peanuts and just crush them a little more and completely mix in.
Next drain the sliced vegetables if they’ve been sitting in water and squeeze out as much water as possible (use a clean tea cloth or kitchen paper), or remove the ice cubes, and add the vegetables to the mortar.
Mine’s too small so I’m going to have to (1) put it on my list to get a bigger one and (2) move the whole salad to a bigger mixing bowl and go very easy on the bashing!
You just want everything to combine nicely now and mix together so go gently on the bashing and maybe use a spoon too to keep everything turning and make sure you’ve combined it all together.
Add the green beans, tomatoes, fish sauce, lime juice and the sugar syrup that has cooled in the pan and give it a bash again, crushing the tomatoes and breaking up the beans a little. Use the spoon again to keep everything turning in the bowl or mortar.
Taste and stir and add more lime if necessary. I normally do, I like it very spicy and quite sour.
Then turn out onto a plate or just into a serving bowl and top with some extra chopped peanuts. Serve on its own or with chicken, or fish and/or rice.
Any leftovers will keep in the fridge for a day, but it will also get spicier the longer it sits in the dressing – just to be warned!