Savoring Thailand: Papaya Salad

Papaya Salad at the Thai-nniversary dinner party I hosted One of my favorite culinary discoveries in Thailand was papaya salad. This bright and  refreshing dish perfectly contrasted the heavy noodle and rice-based dishes like drunken noodles and pad thai.  It's made from green papayas that are not yet ripe, so the have a crisp, white flesh that is more like a squash.  (I'm guessing whoever came up with the fad of making noodles from zucchini got that idea from papaya salad.)  In fact, this salad just happens to be healthy, as the dressing is made from a flavorful combination of spices and juices, but no oil like vinaigrettes.

Shredded Papaya at a Market in Bangkok

Papaya salad being prepared in a giant mortar and pestle at a market in Bangkok. It has to be made on-demand so that the papaya does not get soggy.

Papaya salad may be heavy on vegetables, but it is equally heavy on flavor--and heat!  Like most Thai cooking, there is no shortage of complexity and boldness in this salad. It is a great no-cook dish that marries fresh produce with bold Thai spices. Shredded green papaya, long bean (green beans) and tomatoes are combined with chilies, garlic, lime juice, fish sauce, tamarind juice, palm sugar and roasted peanuts. In fact, many people add dried shrimp and even anchovy paste to the salad making it extra pungent.

The salad is made by making a dressing in a mortar and pestle. The fresh veggies are then added and pounded lightly to combine, and finally the salad is topped with roasted peanuts.  Since I didn't have a proper mortar and pestle for papaya salad (you need a large one for this dish), I just used my smaller one, then poured the dressing over the papaya salad and mixed it.  You an also make the dressing by combining the ingredients in a food processor.

This salad is satisfying in its own right. Just be careful with the heat.  Most Thai recipes suggest way more chilies than I can handle, and I end up having to add extra papaya!

Papaya Salad Bangkok