Green Papaya Salad Recipe
The warm and humid climate in Florida provides the perfect environment that allows papayas to grow abundantly. Although they did not originate from here, they have adapted quite well. Papayas are believed to be native to Mexico and Central America. They are usually available all year round but the peak of their season is early summer to fall. Papaya is normally eaten as a fruit when it’s ripe but when it hasn’t fully matured, it is even more versatile; you can use them as a vegetable. The crisp flesh makes it an ideal base for many dishes. You can add them to salads, soups, and curries.
Young green papaya has a mild bitterness, slightly sweet, almost tasteless profile. The flavor and texture is reminiscent of chayote; which is a fruit that is a member of the gourd family. The white milky sap that the papaya fruit produces before it ripens is known as papain; which contains an enzyme that helps break down protein fibers into amino acids. Papain has many uses and health benefits that has been used for a variety of things such as improving indigestion, inflammation, or even as a meat tenderizer. It can also trigger allergic reactions to those who are sensitive to latex.
I’m pretty fortunate to receive an abundance of fresh papayas from neighbors, friends, or relatives. I had a handful of dishes in mind that I planned on making which included papaya soup, pickled papaya, and papaya kimchi. I will share the results later in the future but for today I’ll be sharing a Thai style papaya salad. It’s one of the salads I crave often because it hits all the right notes that makes my mouth sing. It’s crispy, savory, spicy, sweet, and sour all in one bite. It makes my mouth salivate every time I think of it. It pairs up very well with grilled chicken and sticky rice but you can also serve it among other things.
Traditionally papaya salad is made by using a mortar and pestle to release more of the flavor from the aromatics. You could also make it without one by mixing all of the dressing into a bowl then adding it into the rest of the ingredients. The papaya is first peeled, then the flesh is hacked into with a knife making numerous vertical incisions. Followed by shaving off the layers into thin slivers the other direction that will give you julienne pieces. Repeat the process until you get the amount you desire. You could also use a grater, julienne peeler, or mandolin slicer since this method can be dangerous and more time-consuming but the uneven pieces makes it even more enjoyable to eat.
Papaya salad is enjoyed throughout Southeast Asia. Each region has their own variation; which are all delicious. You can make it with crabs, cucumbers, long green beans, mangoes, Thai eggplants, and vermicelli noodles. The combinations are endless. Each individual has their own preference. Some enjoy it extremely spicy while others prefer is more mild. Since my stomach has become more intolerable to spice, I have limit the amount of chilies I’ve used in the past. Also don’t forget to serve it with a wedge of cabbage to soak up all the deliciousness. This salad is low in calories and so simple to make but packs a punch of flavor that will make you come back for more.
- 1 medium-sized to 1/2 large unripe papaya (julienne)
- 1 large or 2 small garlic cloves
- 1-3 Thai chilies
- 1/2 vine ripen tomato or 6-8 cherry tomatoes (roughly chopped)
- 1-2 tbsp fish sauce (to taste)
- 1 tsp anchovy sauce (optional)
- 1 tbsp dried shrimp (optional)
- 1 tsp shrimp paste (omit if not available)
- 1-2 tbsp coconut or palm sugar (you could use brown sugar)
- 1 tbsp fresh squeezed lime juice
- 1 tbsp tamarind juice (optional; you could use more lime)
- 3 tbsp unsalted raw peanuts (optional)
- carrots (optional)
- Thai basil (optional)
- Dry roast peanuts for a few minutes tossing occasionally to avoid it from burning.
- With a mortar and pestle, start by pounding out the chilies and garlic to crush them into smaller bits.
- Add in dried shrimp, peanuts, and sugar; pound to break them up into chunks.
- Add in anchovy/fish sauce, shrimp paste, and lime/tamarind juice. (Start with less then work your way up to your desired preference.)
- Add in papaya and gently pound using a spoon to toss the ingredients together in a flip and tossing motion.
- Add in tomatoes; gently bruise them to release their juice.
- Gently pound one last time to make sure all the ingredients are mixed thoroughly.
- Taste and adjust accordingly.
- Garnish with more chilies, chopped tomatoes, julienne carrots, Thai basil, and peanuts.
- Papayas can be green and feel firm but also ripe. To ensure that you get an unripe papaya, purchase from your local Asian grocery store.
- For a vegetarian option, substitute with salt or soy sauce/vegetarian fish sauce.
- Different brands of fish sauce may vary in saltiness.