This Thai Green Papaya Salad or Som Tam is a simple, healthy and authentic recipe that’s packed with flavor. Crisp and juicy unripened papaya is finely shredded and mixed with an assortment of colorful vegetables and herbs, tossed in a spicy, tangy dressing and topped with crunchy chopped peanuts. It makes a wonderful side with grilled meats, chicken and seafood. Perfect for summer!
Have you ever tried this classic Thai salad before? If not, you’re in for a real treat.
This recipe was featured in one of my very first blog posts along with a Thai style whole grilled fish all the way back in 2013. It was back when I didn’t know how to properly write a recipe, take a photograph or really know anything about blogging at all. I’ve since given the recipe a necessary update and the photos a makeover, so I’m reposting it here today for you to enjoy.
This Thai Green Papaya Salad is so light and refreshing, it’s exactly the kind of food I crave in the summer. Like all great Thai food, it has a wonderful balance of salty, sweet, sour and spice. With only a few simple ingredients, it manages to put forth an incredible amount 0f flavor – one that will make you forget that what you’re eating is absurdly, mind-bogglingly healthy. Want another helping? Go for it.
So, what is a green papaya anyway?
You’re probably familiar with the ripe, sweet, bright orange papayas with dark black seeds, right? A green papaya is simply an unripe version of that. Think of it just like any other unripe fruit: before it turns tender and sweet, it’s firm, green, a little starchy and not sweet at all. A green papaya has a crisp texture somewhere between a carrot and a cucumber, and a neutral flavor that doesn’t taste like much of anything at all.
Perhaps you live in a tropical region where papayas grow wild on the streets. Cool! If that’s the case, just go out into your yard and pluck one that’s young, green, firm and hasn’t yet ripened. For everyone else, look for them at your local Asian market – nearly every city has one these days. Don’t be intimidated by these markets! They’re full of incredible, high-quality exotic ingredients that your grocery store definitely does not carry and and are almost always super inexpensive. I absolutely adore mine.
How to Shred the Papaya
The easiest way to cut the papaya into long, thin pieces is to use a mandoline with a julienne attachment or one of those hand held julienne tools. You can also use a box grater or the grating attachment on a food processor, but it will produce a slightly different texture. In Thailand, experienced cooks use a method known as “pok pok” to chip away at the papayas with a knife to create long, thin shreds. The name comes from the sound it it makes when the knife hits the papaya – pok pok pok pok! I’ve tried it and just can’t seem to make it work, so I stick with what I know.
If you’re using a mandoline, I suggest investing in a pair of cut-proof gloves to keep things safe. Ever since I snagged a pair, I slice with more confidence and have never cut myself once despite running my finger over the blade again and again. I now consider them essential.
While the green papaya may seem like an unusual and hard-to-source ingredient, everything else is pretty standard. We have tomatoes, green beans, carrots, Thai basil, cilantro, peanuts and a downright addictive tangy and sweet vinaigrette made with fish sauce, garlic, sugar and lime. You can make this salad spicy if you want – and you know I want to – but you can ditch the chilies altogether and make it as mild as you prefer.
In fact, everything in this salad can be customized to suit your own individual preferences. The ingredients I used are traditional, but really they can be shifted around to be sweeter, saltier, tangier, or swapped out altogether to use whatever is available to you. There is a local Thai restaurant here that omits the papaya altogether and uses shredded green cabbage instead. It’s still damn tasty.
I hope you try this salad and that it becomes a favorite in your home. It looks and sounds far more complicated than it actually is.
*Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links which means I make a very small commission if you purchase anything via the links.
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This authentic recipe for Thai Green Papaya Salad or Som Tam is a simple and healthy recipe that’s packed with flavor. Crisp and juicy unripened papaya is julienned and mixed with an assortment of colorful vegetables and herbs, tossed in a spicy, tangy dressing and topped with crunchy chopped peanuts. It makes a wonderful side with grilled meats, chicken and seafood.
- 5 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 3 tablespoons packed palm sugar or light brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ tsp crushed red chili flakes, more or less to taste
- 1 medium unripe green papaya (about 1 – 1½ pounds), peeled, halved and seeded
- 1 medium carrot, peeled
- 1 big handful of green beans (about a dozen) ends snapped off and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 large tomato, cut into chunks, or about 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
- 1 medium shallot, very thinly sliced
- 1 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
- 1 cup Thai basil, roughly chopped
- ¼ cup coarsely chopped peanuts
- Add the lime juice, palm sugar, fish sauce, garlic and chili flakes to a medium bowl, then whisk until the sugar is dissolved.
- Use a julienne tool or mandolin with a julienne attachment to create long thin strands of the papaya and carrot. If you don’t have a julienne tool, you can julienne by hand or use a box grater. The texture will be slightly different, but it still works.
- Add the papaya and carrots to a large mixing bowl along with the green beans, tomatoes, shallots, cilantro and Thai basil. Pour dressing over top and toss to thoroughly combine.
- Arrange salad on a platter and sprinkle with chopped peanuts. Garnish with more herbs if desired.
Keywords: som tam, green papaya, Thai, Asian, spicy, salad, fish sauce, healthy