The Thai green papaya salad recipe (Som Tum) is an extremely flavorful salad made from green unripe papaya lightly pounded with garlic, Thai chilies, tomatoes, and green beans. The sweet, tangy, and sour taste comes from fresh lime juice, fish sauce, and palm sugar. It's one tasty and healthy salad that comes out of Thai food!
- What is Papaya salad?
- Origin of Papaya salad
- Why you'll love Thai papaya salad
- Ingredients for making Thai green papaya salad
- How to Make Thai Papaya Salad
- Serving Ideas
- Helpful kitchen notes and tips
- Helpful Tools to Make Thai Papaya Salad
- Frequently Asked Questions
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- Thai green papaya salad recipe (Som Tum)
What is Papaya salad?
Papaya salad is a cold salad made with shredded green papaya that is still young, green, and not yet ripe. The papaya is lightly pounded with garlic, chiles, and other vegetables, then seasoned with fish sauce and lime juice to make a salty, sweet, sour, and umami-tasting salad.
What does Som Tum mean?
Som Tom in Thai means to pound (something) with a sour (taste). “Som” means sour, and “Tum“ means to pound. So basically, any vegetable used to make this dish must have been pounded in a sour agent. So you can make Som Tum using green beans or Som Tum cucumber.
Origin of Papaya salad
There are countless versions of this Thai green papaya salad in Thai cuisine and other cuisines in Southeast Asia. This Thai version is one of the easiest to make and is most likely the version you can order at your favorite Thai restaurant. Thai green papaya salad is believed to have originated from Laos, and it has gained popularity throughout all regions of Thailand, especially in the Isaan Region (Northeast), where I grew up.
Why you'll love Thai papaya salad
- This salad is a flavor bomb waiting to go off in every bite!
- It has the fresh ingredients that make this salad uber healthy! It's full of vegetables eaten with vegetables.
- It can be eaten as a side dish or a full meal.
Ingredients for making Thai green papaya salad
Below are the ingredients and helpful tools you need to make Thai Papaya Salad. You can find a few items online with a link below.
- Papaya. The main ingredient. Make sure it's a young, unripe green papaya with no traces or orange or yellow color on it.
- Garlic. Use fresh garlic cloves. Garlic paste is not recommended.
- Thai chili peppers. Use fresh chiles to make this spicy green papaya salad. Thai bird's eye chili is traditional, but long spur chilies are ok too. Some recipes used dried peppers, too, but we'll save that for another spicier recipe. (:
- green beans. They are also called yard-long beans, snake beans, or string beans. They are the long beans, 2-3 feet long sometimes. They are sold at Asian grocery stores. Regular greens and beans are ok as substitutes.
- Thai eggplants. This sour, sweet, salty Thai salad adds a tart and crunchy texture. They are often used raw in many Thai dishes.
- Cherry tomatoes. Sliced the tomato pieces in halves. Roma and other types of sweet tomatoes are great for the salad.
- Palm sugar is used in The traditional way of making Som Tum. But nowadays, any sweetener will do. White, monk fruit or brown sugar can be used. I LOVE using agave for mine! I have never used coconut sugar before but experiment and let me know!
- Dried shrimp. Adds the extra umami and lightly chewy texture to this delicious salad.
- Tamarind juice. Also called tamarind paste, sauce, or concentrate. It adds a wonderful sour note that is not quite as strong as the lime juice.
- Fish sauce. This is where most of the salty taste comes from. Don't skip it or substitute soy sauce for Som Tam Thai recipes.
- Fresh lime juice. Always use fresh lime juice.
- Shredded carrots. It adds a nice color to the salad. Use a julienne peeler to peel into long small pieces.
- Unsalted roasted peanuts. Raw peanuts can be used too, but I suggest roasting them first for the extra nutty and earthy taste.
How to Make Thai Papaya Salad
Step 1. First step. Prepare the green papaya. Wash, and pat dry with paper towels. You can cut the peeled papaya in half before peeling it if it's easier to grip the fruit with your fingers. Peel the skin off of the papaya with a sharp knife.
Step 2. Rinse the papaya again with cold water as sticky saps will ooze from the peeled papaya skin. Pat dry, then peel the raw papaya into small pieces with the kiwi peeler. Place the peeled papaya slices into a large bowl of ice water to keep them fresh and crunchy for the pounding. Save the rest of the papaya for more salads for the next few days.
Step 3. Add garlic and chilis in a large mortar and pestle. Lightly pound the garlic and chilis. Do not turn it into a paste. Also, have a large spoon ready to scrape and flip the ingredients alongside the wooden mortar.
Step 4. Add the green beans, Thai eggplants, and peanuts. Pound until bruised but not crushed.
Step 5. Add the sliced tomatoes, palm sugar, tamarind sauce, fish sauce, and lime juice. Add the squeezed lime wedges to the mortar, adding a lightly bitter lime zest flavor to the salad. Use the spoon often to scrape, scoop and stir all the ingredients for an even mixing.
Step 6. Add the shredded papaya, shredded carrot, and dried shrimp. Pound everything together well using a large spoon to stir and mix the ingredients in the mortar.
Step 7 Taste the finished salad and adjust with more sugar, lime juice, or fish sauce until you get the best taste for your salad. Use the spoon to scoop and turn the salad in the mortar before serving. Sprinkle crushed peanuts on top before place in a serving plate. That’s it! Enjoy!
Eat your Thai papaya salad with sticky rice, jasmine rice, rice vermicelli noodles, leafy lettuce, water spinach, long green beans, and pork rind, or eat it as a main meal.
Helpful kitchen notes and tips
- Thai papaya salad is best enjoyed immediately while all the flavors are still fresh. I do not recommend having any leftovers at all! (: Well, you won't want to anyway, trust me.
- Green papaya comes in various sizes, and you'll most likely have leftover green papaya to make a few more salads. Partially peel the skin off for each salad to help keep the papaya fresh and crunchy for your next salad.
- The finer you pound your chiles in the mortar, the spicier your salad will be. More of the oils get released and make your salad extra spicy!
- Pound the peanuts with chiles and garlic for a nutty and creamy texture.
- If you don't have sticky rice, use jasmine rice. If you avoid carbs, eat the salad as your main course and use leafy greens like romaine lettuce, cabbage, or butter lettuce as a salad wrap.
- For more potent and street food flavors, use Pla Ra or Fermented Mud fish to add a bold, pungent taste. Make it Lao style, where Papaya salads are believed to originate.
- I don't use MSG in my cooking, but when in Thailand, almost all Thai dishes, especially Som Tum, will have msg added. If you are not allergic, please feel free to add ½ teaspoon to your salad.
- Use green beans or cucumbers as substitutes if you can't find unripened papaya. Don't use sweet papaya for this recipe. Try these Laos recipes with Lao papaya salad and another one with cucumber in the Lao cucumber salad.
- Keep the remaining papaya in a zip-lock bag in the refrigerator for up to a week.
- You can always shred extra papaya for your next salad to help save some time. Keep the smaller pieces in a ziplock plastic bag in the fridge.
- The salad will not keep well as leftovers. The vegetables will get soggy and lose flavor. The papaya sometimes tastes bitter if the salad is eaten as leftovers. If there's just a little bit left, best to finish it or toss the rest of the salad. Make only enough for one meal and make it fresh the next time you want some tasty Thai papaya salad.
Helpful Tools to Make Thai Papaya Salad
- Mortar and pestle. The clay mortar and wooden pestle set (pictured below) are used most often for making Thai papaya salad in Thailand. Your best chance of finding a quality mortar and pestle is at your local Asian Markets. Go on an adventure to your Asian Market and see what you can find there!
- Kiwi peeler. Kiwi vegetable peeler, also at your local Asian markets, or you can snag one online HERE. I love this kitchen tool! I use mine often for peeling fruits and vegetables. They are great for peeling carrots, zucchini, cucumber, daikon, mangos, etc., into small pieces. It gets used a lot in my kitchen.
- Vegetable Peeler. A good vegetable peeler is a must to peel the skin off of the papaya.
- Regular cheese grater with a handle. Not ideal, but next best option.
Frequently Asked Questions
Thai Papaya salad is typically made in a large clay mortar with a wooden pestle to lightly pound the raw vegetables. If you don’t have a set, you can use a few things around the house to make this Thai dish.
Make the papaya salad dressing by combing sugar, fish sauce, lime juice, and tamarind juice in a small bowl. Whisk well until sugar is dissolved. Add all the vegetables and ingredients to a sturdy large mixing bowl. With cooking gloves on, massage ingredients together well until the vegetables are lightly bruised. Add the sauce, mix well, taste, adjust, and be done!
Papaya salad is commonly served with sticky rice on the side. In the old days, papaya salads are eaten with your fingers using sticky rice, raw vegetables, or herbs as a spoon or wrapper to scoop out each bite.
Yes and no. The beauty of the papaya salad is that you can easily modify and substitute the ingredients. That is why there is a number of variations out there. I use dried shrimp for a rich, umami flavor for this recipe. You can also use raw shrimp (cocktail shrimp) as well.
Green papayas can be found almost all year round at most local Asian markets. Some large grocery stores may carry them too. Make sure they are young and firm. The softer texture and sweeter flavor of sweet papaya will not work well for this type of green papaya salad.
You can use green beans or cucumbers and make a slightly different salad. Both of those vegetables are also commonly used in Som Tum.
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