To me, it's awe inspiring to watch Thai ladies, so deft at their craft, pounding a Som Tum or Green Papaya Salad. My first experience with Som Tum was at the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets in Darwin. It was a 35-degree C afternoon, and Peter and I sat on the beach (with about a thousand others), watching the sunset whilst relishing every morsel of this refreshing and flavoursome salad. It has since become a favourite on our menu at home.
During this morning's outing at the Thai Food and Cultural Festival, Sorawit Meejimda, head chef at the Royal Thai Embassy in Canberra, kindly took a moment whilst cooking his Pad Thai to talk me through the steps in making Som Tum.
"Use just a little fish sauce, not too much", Sorawit recommended, smiling as he stirred fat prawns into the noodles for his Pad Thai. "Also lime juice, carrots, cherry tomatoes, beans, lime tamarind, garlic, palm sugar, peanuts, dried shrimp and chilli".
There are numerous recipes and ways to make Som Tum Thai, here is my interpretation. To boost the flavour, I like to add a small amount of freshly chopped herbs, such as garlic chives, coriander and mint, but you may prefer to leave them out. Traditionally, the dressing is pounded in with the ingredients, however I like to add it at the last moment, thus keeping the salad a little crunchier. Make the dressing, adjusting the flavours and quantity of ingredients, to suit your palate.
I'm also sharing my recipe for Yam Neua, or Thai beef salad, another of my favourites. Please let me know your favourite Thai dish, I'd love to hear from you. And I wish you Thaan hai aroi na khrap/kha (which I understand is the Thai way of bidding bon appetit!).
GREEN PAPAYA SALAD WITH DRIED SHRIMP AND PEANUTS (SOM TUM THAI)
1 fresh green papaya, shredded (2 cups)
1/2 small carrot, peeled and shredded
1/2 punnet cherry tomatoes, halved
4 green beans, cut into thirds or 1-2 snake beans, trimmed and cut into 3 cm segments
1 tablespoon dried shrimp
1 tablespoon fresh chives or garlic chives, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh coriander leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon tamarind water
2 tablespoons peanuts, lightly roasted, to garnish
fried shallots, to garnish, optional
For the dressing (make the dressing to taste, add a little less or more of each):
2-3 tablespoons fish sauce
1-2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/4-1/2 cup water
2-3 tablespoons palm sugar
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
bird's eye chilli, finely chopped, to taste
2 tablespoons lime juice, to taste
To prepare the papaya, peel it and then shred it using either a grater or a vegetable shredder (see pic). Discard any of the seedpod, as you don't want any seeds in your salad. Pop the shredded papaya and carrots into the refrigerator to chill. Bruise the bean pieces and cherry tomatoes in a large mortar bowl. Traditionally, a terracotta mortar is used with a wooden pestle, but you can use a large granite mortar or simply a bowl. Pound gently, just to release the juices. Add the shredded green papaya, half the herbs (if using), dried shrimp and the tamarind water. Pound and mix to gently bruise the papaya and incorporate the juices.
To make the dressing, combine the fish sauce, rice vinegar, water and sugar in a small saucepan and stir well over a medium heat. Don't allow this dressing to boil, take it off the stove just before boiling point and set aside to cool. Just before serving, add the garlic, chilli and lime juice. Wonderful!
To serve, place the salad onto a serving platter or bowl, sprinkle over the dressing and top with the peanuts, fried shallots and remaining chopped herbs. You can eat the salad as it is, or serve it with steamed Jasmine rice if you wish. This recipe will serve two.
THAI BEEF SALAD (YAM NEUA)
375g rump steak, trimmed of all fat
a little peanut oil
a few drops sesame oil
2 handfuls assorted crisp salad greens
1 Lebanese cucumber, peeled & thinly sliced
freshly ground black pepper
Jasmine rice to serve
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon lemon grass, finely sliced
1 teaspoon fresh coriander root, chopped
1/2 teaspoon red chilli, finely chopped
1 tablespoon soft brown sugar
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon light low salt soy sauce
Wash the salad greens and carefully pat dry. Arrange on a serving plate with the cucumber slices. Cover and refrigerate. Combine the garlic, lemon grass, coriander and chilli in a mortar. Pound well. In a separate bowl, combine the brown sugar, lime juice, fish sauce and soy sauce. Whisk well. Stir in the ground ingredients and set aside. Heat a frypan, skillet or barbecue plate and brush lightly with the oils. Cook the steaks quickly, searing well on both sides. Turn only once during cooking and cook to your liking. Remove the steak from the pan, transfer to a board and slice thinly. Arrange the sliced steak over the salad greens, season with freshly ground black pepper and drizzle over the dressing. Serve immediately with steamed Jasmine rice. Serves four.
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.