The first time I came across this salad was in one of the markets of Bangkok. To make a good Som Tum Thais usually use a wooden mortar and a wooden pestle. This wooden mortar and pestle caught my eye the very first weeks after I arrived in Bangkok and was one of the first of many Thai utensils that I bought and collected over the years. To be perfectly honest this is one of my favourite Thai utensil and has a very important place in my kitchen.
Julienne the Thai way is usually done by peeling the fruit and then using a sharp knife to chop into its flesh many many times to create parallel grooves. The use of the knife in this way for me is very difficult since in Asia in general the way they use the knife is very different to the way I was taught. Luckily I found a small gadget that almost does the same job!.
As with all Thai recipes you must continuously taste the salad for seasoning so that all the flavours mellow out during the assembly and the sharpness of the dressing will take you to Thailand!
Ingredients for the Dressing
- 5 cloves of garlic
- 2 to 6 small fresh Thai chillies (bird’s eye chilli) red and green. The number of chilli depends on how spicy you want the salad
- 1-2 tablespoons palm sugar
- 2-3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1/2 tablespoon tamarind paste
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- 1/4 cup long beans, cut into 2 centimetres pieces
- 12 cherry tomatoes, quartered
- 2 cups green papaya, peeled and julienned, Thai style
- Roasted peanuts to taste
- Dried small shrimps, to taste
Method for the salad
- Slice and shred the papaya into strings
- Make the salad dressing. In a small bowl mix the palm sugar, the fish sauce and the tamarind paste with a spoon.
- Next pound the garlic and the chillies into a paste with a pestle and mortar to release their essential oils. This is the beginning of the process of making the dressing and the salad together in the Thai pestle and mortar.
- Add the long beans, the cherry tomatoes and dried shrimps (optional) and pound them enough to break and release their juices.
- Add the the julienned papaya and gently pound the papaya. Make sure not to bruise the papaya strands too much or the salad will become limp and mushy.
- Season the papaya mixture with the dressing. Mix all the ingredients well with a spoon.
- At this point, it is very important to taste the salad to correct the seasoning, the salad should be sweet, sour, salty and spicy.
- Add the peanuts and mix quickly.
- To serve, spoon the salad on a plate immediately and sprinkle with roasted peanuts.
- It is important to pound the shredded green papaya gently so the papaya strands will not be bruised too much.
- Som tum salad should have a balanced flavour of sweetness from the palm sugar, sourness from the lime juice and tamarind paste, saltiness from the fish sauce and dried shrimps and spiciness from the bird’s eye chilli.
- If you do not have a wooden mortar and pestle you can still make this delicious salad. Mix all the ingredients together with a spoon in a bowl, but you must pound the garlic and chilli in a stone mortar.
- If you cannot find green papaya, use green mangoes.