A Som Tam Recipe Sourced From Our Yard
All About Green Papaya Salad
A picture of a papaya tree (on left) next to our peteh tree with the sator bean pods hanging down.
It’s summer and we have many papayas. And coconuts, and jackfruit, and starfruit, and some sator beans and other things. So this morning my husband decided to harvest one of our papayas to make som tam, spicy green papaya salad. It’s a Thai signature dish so I figured I’d share a recipe for people who do not have access to all of the ingredients we used here.
Everything but the garlic and limes were sourced from our yard. Both grow here and we even know where a lime tree is nearby, but we just bought those at a local shop. The orange and green circles are actually a type of small and sour eggplant that grows in our yard as pictured here.
We have to scrape the white fuzz off of them before eating. These little guys are not very eggplant like when they become orange, tasting more like sour cherry tomatoes (that’s one substitution).
Since som tam is almost by definition spicy Thai salad we also used pequin peppers that grow in our yard as pictured here.
I read somewhere that in the 1800’s the government of Mexico gave Thailand pequin peppers as a gift of goodwill. They grow wild all over the place and are used in many native Thai dishes to lend signature spiciness. They are hot and are also used in the production of the USA made Tabasco sauce.
The green papaya was skinned and deseeded and sliced into small long segments and all ingredients were added to a pok pok (large pestal and mortar) along with pla ra, a small salty fermented fish that was given to us by a neighbor (somewhat similar to anchovies) and some fish sauce. This was our final product served alongside some fresh leafy greens from the yard:
I doubt anyone not living in Thailand would have direct access to our exact ingredients. Som tam has many varieties often based on what is available to you and every Thai chef has their own tweaks with it. Some add peanuts and most add green beans. Sometimes green papayas can be found at Asian food stores in America, but there is a caveat even if you live in an area where you can find them. Green papaya (but not ripe orange ones) contains an ingredient in the latex that is an abortificant, which means it can potentially induce labor in pregnant women. Therefore if you are pregnant or perhaps trying to be, you probably should skip the green papaya som tam.
With that said my husband Oh had a recipe that he made for our family in Las Vegas many times that my mother really loved. He usually substituted dark green skinned cucumbers with the outside skin taken off and deseeded for green papaya. Obviously use green papaya if you have that instead or want it authentic. But here is his US recipe:
Two or three large dark green cucumbers, skinned with the inside seeds taken out, sliced into long strips
Six cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
Six green beans
The juice from two small to medium fresh limes
Three cloves fresh garlic
Two or three whole dried chiles
Two tablespoons Thai fish sauce (Soy sauce or seasoning sauce is a fine vegetarian substitution)
Add all of the ingredients to a pok pok and grind until mixed thoroughly. Serve with a side of lettuce and on top of rice. Happy eating!