My trashcan smells like papaya. In an attempt to mix up our menu for the Month of Eating In, we opted for Som Tam a few nights ago, a dish BJ used to eat in Thailand. We didn’t catch the note at the bottom of the recipe that called for an unripe papaya, though. I was shredding away at that ripe papaya — without a clue what this dish was supposed to look like — when BJ walks into the kitchen and realizes that the juicy, carrot-colored shreds in the bowl are nothing like the Som Tam he loved in Bangkok. We tried a few bites, thinking we might salvage the papaya shreds, but it’s just not our favorite fruit. So we ditched it.
Lesson: It’s hard to try new, exotic meals when you can’t fall back on Dominos. If you’re going to try something wild, google a picture of it first.
As it turns out, there are hundreds of variations of Som Tam. I scoured the net and found a few that I really liked. Below is my own mish-mash Som Tam from all of the recipes. The mash of the mish-mash is actually very important, though. Som Tam is traditionally made with a pestle and mortar — one of those exotic cooking tools that BJ and I just don’t have. The pestle and mortar implies that the heart of Som Tam is the mashing and crushing part. I found a way to improvise for the exotic cookware that still gives you the pleasure of crushing and destroying something to your heart’s content.
This is a great recipe for people who are into beating things up.
- 1 bag of coleslaw mix (If you’re lucky enough to find an unripe papaya, shred away.)
- Small bag of carrot shreds
- Handful of peanuts
- A few handfuls of cherry tomatoes, cut into halves
- Half a pound of cooked shrimp (we use half of an HEB shrimp ring)
- About 2 cups of uncooked green beans
- 2 Thai chilies (Look for Serrano chili peppers in the produce section and avoid jalapeños. )
- 2 tbs. Lime juice
- 1 tbs. Thai fish sauce (a smelly, salt substitute)
- One peeled clove of garlic
- Brown sugar to taste
This is not authentic Som Tam, but it will do.
The Fun Part
Put the peeled clove of garlic , Thai chilies, peanuts, and green beans into separate plastic bags and pound them with your pounding-implement of choice (we use a jar of peanut butter). The garlic and chilies should start looking pasty. The peanuts and green beans should just look tired.
Mix coleslaw, carrot shreds, tomatoes, and shrimp with the lime juice and fish sauce. Add the remnants of your mashed plastic bags to the mix. Have a taste and add up to 1 tbs. of brown sugar.
Not too difficult, eh? Apparently, Som Tam is the Thai equivalent of potato salad in the American South — same basic ingredients, all kinds of variants, and everyone thinks their version is the best.
Tip: Thai fish sauce is hard to find. You could use soy sauce, but I don’t think it has the same effect. The local Asian Market is your best bet for nabbing some oh-so-smelly fish sauce.
And Another Tip: To curb the spiciness, mix up a batch of Thai tea. It’s super easy. Just add a glug of coconut milk to sweetened, iced black tea.