I absolutely adore Thai green papaya salad, or Som Tam. I always order it when I see it on a restaurant menu. In fact, I have actually dined at certain restaurants solely because I’d heard that their green papaya salad was amazing. My favorite Asian market sometimes carries their own homemade version of it, and it is really something special. Sadly, I haven’t seen it there in quite a while.
The best way I can think of to describe green papaya salad is as a crunchy, sweet and salty take on Western coleslaw. It’s a lively party of many textures and flavors, like garlic, chili, lime and fish sauce, and it is just plain delicious. The main ingredient of traditional Som Tam is of course, shredded “green” papaya, which is basically the flesh of the raw, unripened fruit. While I can easily find ripe, yellow papayas in my local markets, the unripe ones are more elusive. And, when I have a craving for green papaya salad, that just won’t do!
When I made my Asian Wedding Soup, aka faux pho, a few weeks ago, I desperately wanted a bowl of green papaya salad to serve alongside it. But, I also didn’t want to go crazy looking for all of the ingredients I would need. So, I put on my food ninja thinking cap, and tried to figure out a way to achieve the “personality” of the dish with what was readily available to me. Sometimes, you just have to think outside the box. What I came up with was a creative and very tasty (if I do say so myself) take on this Thai classic. Instead of green papaya as the base for my salad, I used…..
Yup. That’s right. I used a bag of good old broccoli slaw plucked from the produce aisle of my local supermarket. It was already julienned. It was crisp. It was crunchy. It was easy. And, it was even green! But, the most important thing was that, when it was all dolled up in its fancy, exotic dressing, it gave me the same essence of that green papaya salad that I love so much. I can’t believe I’d never thought if it before!
To prepare my salad, I whisked up my dressing, dumped the broccoli slaw in a bowl along with some chopped tomatoes and scallions, and mixed them all together. Then, I sprinkled some chopped, dry roasted peanuts on top for a little extra crunch. That was it! Really, it couldn’t have been simpler.
The guidelines for this recipe are not written in stone. I’ve listed the ingredients in the measurements that I used. Feel free to change them to suit your own tastes. I love fish sauce, so I was a little heavy handed with it. If you like a more subtle kick, use less. The same goes for the rest of the ingredients. The important thing is that you like it.
Now, if I ever do come across a true green papaya, I’ll be more than happy to whip up the real deal. But for now, I’m thrilled with my faux version. It’s a vibrant, refreshing and very flavorful dish that would be a welcome addition to any Asian-inspired meal – at least at my table.
Thai-Style Broccoli Slaw Salad
3 cups broccoli slaw mix
3 green scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup fresh Thai basil coarsely chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 large or 2 small tomatoes, cut into bite-sized chunks
1/2 cup dry roasted peanuts, coarsely, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 red Thai chili peppers, seeded and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons shrimp paste
1-2 tablespoons palm or granulated sugar
Juice of 2 fresh limes
2-3 tablespoons fish sauce
Combine the garlic and chilis together in a bowl and crush with a pestle or the back of a spoon to release the flavors. Add the rest of the dressing ingredients and whisk until the sugar and shrimp paste are dissolved. Adjust the seasoning to your liking.
Toss the dressing with all of the salad ingredients, except the peanuts, in a large bowl. Taste and adjust the seasonings if desired.
Top with chopped peanuts.