A mild short circuit away from Pinoy food results in a favorite Thai side dish… a green papaya salad with a wonderful and substantial, peanut, chili, garlic and lime dressing. I have always ordered this salad at local Thai restaurants to mixed results… sometimes they are good, sometimes they are quite awful. Good for me equals serious flavor. Almost over the top. Nothing subtle. No punches pulled. It is spicy, pungent, salty and sour all at the same time. The papaya is actually just a foil or bearer of the intense flavors that enrobe it. This is the first time I have made it at home, and it was a fantastic version… So you too, can do this at home and make a huge salad for very little money and it is the perfect accompaniment for grilled or fried pork or fish.
The experiment was inspired by an episode of “Chef in Black,” which featured a stunning example of the salad. But I had to refer to my favorite Thai cookbook “thai food” by David Thompson for more guidance. This recipe is essentially Mr. Thompson’s, but altered based on the ingredients I had and the portion I needed. Like many dishes prevalent on the streets of Southeast Asia, measurements are somewhat relative or even arbitrary; each vendor has his/her own version, and you can feel free to tinker with the volumes of ingredients to achieve the taste (really more about balance) you prefer.
Shred 1/2 of a medium sized green papaya, yielding roughly 1.5-2.0 cups. In a mortar and pestle, add two cloves of garlic, peeled, 5 siling labuyo or bird’s eye chillies, and 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt and start mashing away until you have achieved a rough paste. Then add two tablespoons of roasted unsalted peanuts (PHP20 or less from those nut vendors at local groceries), a teaspoon of lime or dayap juice and about 1 tablespoon of hibe or dried shrimp and mash away again until you get a very chunky peanut buttery looking mixture. Add one native tomato cut up and about 30 1-inch pieces of sitaw or long beans and bruise these slightly. Add all of this to the shredded papaya and bruise it all just a bit more. Add two tablespoons of tamarind paste (thinned if too viscous), the juice of half a lime, 2 tablespoons or less of patis or fish sauce and 2 tablespoons of brown or palm sugar and toss to mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
Serve at room temperature or cold with grilled or fried pork or fish and enjoy! This is really easy to make and utterly delicious to eat. It should pack a powerful flavor profile and pop in your mouth, mixing brilliantly with fatty pork. Now that I have figured out it is so easy to do at home, I think we will be enjoying this dish much more often… (Note: the papaya I used here was already beginning to ripen, perhaps it would have been best 2-3 days earlier; but the resulting dish was still delicious…)