Green Papaya Salad is a quintessential Southeast Asian salad, with a riot of flavors and textures. Known as som tam, this salad is claimed by both Laos and Thailand as a national dish. It’s fresh and crunchy with a vibrant dressing, and I add steamed shrimp to my version, making it hearty enough for a main course meal. CNN even declared Green Papaya Salad to be one of the 50 most delicious dishes in the entire world! I remember first trying som tam many many years ago in college. The flavors capture the best of Thai cuisine. It’s a little tart, a little sweet, kind of funky, and kind of salty. Plus, there’s this burst of intense bold flavor from the herbs, chiles, and garlic. It blew my mind. It’s the opposite of beige food and if you’ve never had green papaya salad, it will be truly life changing. And you need to have some now.
Green Papaya Salad Dressing
This dressing is one of my absolute favorite flavors. Nuoc cham is so versatile, I’ve been known to use some version of it in everything from marinades to dipping sauces. I always make a double batch because it keeps for a couple weeks in the fridge. Use leftovers as a dip for Salt Baked Shrimp or to dress Lemongrass Noodle Bowls.
Composing Green Papaya Salad
Som translates to sour, and tam to pound. So som tam salads have a sour ingredient, like unripe papaya, and all the ingredients get lightly pounded together to release their flavor. I start making my green papaya salad by poaching some shrimp. I let the water come to a boil and then let the shrimp sit in the very hot water off heat. This technique gives you the perfect plump poached shrimp. You can kiss overcooked rubbery shrimp good bye. If you are short on time though you can just buy cooked shrimp at the market.
If you’ve never had unripe (green) papaya before, you’re in for a treat. The green is referring to the flesh; as papaya ripens the flesh turns orange. Green papaya is enjoyed the world over for its savory crisp. I actually dislike ripe papaya. I find the texture and the flavor off putting. Plus the seeds look suspiciously like frogs eggs-I’m sure this is just me! My point is that green papaya is a whole different fruit. It’s more similar to cucumbers or watermelon rind: crunchy and refreshing with very little flavor.
Green papaya is easy to find at Asian markets. You can also usually find it in the produce section of well stocked grocery stores. Look for fruit that is bright green and rock hard with no blemishes or soft spots which would indicate ripening.
After shredding the papaya, I pound the aromatics with a mortar and pestle. The dried shrimp are a traditional ingredient that add just the right funky pop. You can leave them out for a milder, less aggressive flavor.
Green Papaya Salad is a wonderful starter or serve with rice for a light supper. Try it today so you can see why it’s ranked among the very best dishes on the entire planet! Let me know what you think by commenting on this recipe and don’t forget to tag us in your pics @funkyasiankitchen, we love hearing from you!
- 1 small green papaya (about a pound), peeled, seeded and shredded
- 2 large garlic cloves sliced
- ¼ of a lime thinly sliced
- ½ pound large shrimp, steamed
- 1 tablespoon dried shrimp quickly blanched in hot water
- 1 large tomato diced or a handful of grape tomatoes
- 2 ounces green beans (long beans or haricot verts are fine too), just a small handful
- Small handful mint leaves, basil, or a combination minced
- nuoc cham dressing (recipe follows)
- ¼ cup fresh lime juice
- 2 Tablespoons sugar
- 2 Tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 large clove garlic minced
- 2 thai bird chilis
- Mix all ingredients together until sugar is dissolved.
- Store in the fridge until ready to use.
- Lasts 2 weeks in the fridge.
- Cut the papaya in half, peel the papaya, and then scrape the seeds out and discard.
- Shred the papaya with a julienne peeler. You can also use a mandoline. Set the papaya aside.
- Pour a quarter of sauce over the shrimp and let the shrimp sit in the sauce while you make the salad.
- In a mortar and pestle, place the garlic, dried shrimp, and chiles. Pound the ingredients so that the chiles and garlic are broken up. Add the green beans and continue pounding so they too are a little broken up.
- Add the papaya and another quarter of the sauce, continuing to pound and mix for a couple of seconds. Pour the remaining sauce over the papaya and toss lightly to coat.
- Pile green papaya salad onto a plate and then garnish with the shrimp, tomatoes, and chopped herbs. Served immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.
*This salad is best consumed within a couple hours of making it. The papaya will leach water as it sits, making the salad watery over time. Drain any excessive liquid, taste the salad before serving, and adjust seasoning as needed. You can also keep the dressing separate from the salad and toss the salad with the dressing right before serving.
*If you do not have a mortar and pestle, mince the garlic, chiles, and dried shrimp and add it to a large bowl with the shredded papaya and green beans. Add the dressing and toss to combine. Pile the salad on a deep plate and garnish with the marinated shrimp, tomatoes, and herbs.
Keywords: nuoc cham, salads, sides, papaya, healthy, som tum, thai