Easy Vegan Papaya Salad

Thai papaya salad
Thai papaya salad photo by Rick Poon / Getty Images
Ratings (18)
  • Total: 15 mins
  • Prep: 15 mins
  • Cook: 0 mins
  • Yield: 2-3 servings

Thai papaya salad also called "som tum" or "som tam" is a fun and spicy side dish. Although in Thai cuisine, papaya salad is a pescetarian dish usually made with fish sauce and shrimp, this vegetarian (and vegan!) som tum recipe has plenty of flavor as well. It uses soy sauce instead of fish sauce, and you won't miss the shrimp with all the other fantastically textured ingredients, including green beans, cherry tomatoes, and roasted peanuts for plenty of crunch. 

If you prefer a spicier dish, you can add even more chiles, but if you're using small Thai chilies, they are deceptively hot for their size, so I strongly recommend that you don't add more than three total unless you are sure that you know what you're doing!

Note that we Westerners usually think of papaya as a soft, ripe and orangey colored tropical fruit, but this dish is made with unripened green papaya, which is firm, green on the outside and a pale yellowish color on the inside. You may need to stop by an Asian grocer in order to find green papaya, and, whatever you do, don't try making this recipe with a ripe papaya; it won't work.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups firm green papaya (grated, not including the skin)
  • 1/4 cup green beans (chopped)
  • 1/4 cup carrots (grated)
  • 1/4 cup cabbage (sliced into thin strips)
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 8-10 cherry tomatoes (sliced in half)
  • 2 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1 or 2 small Thai green or red chilis (minced)
  • 1 tsp lemon or lime juice
  • 1/2 tsp raw sugar (or 1 tsp honey or agave nectar)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp roasted peanuts
  • lettuce (optional)

Steps to Make It

  1. Combine all ingredients, except peanuts and toss well. Mash together with a mortar and pestle, if possible. Chill for at least 2 hours if you have the time. 

  2. Add peanuts and serve cold on a bed of lettuce if you'd like.

Enjoy your vegetarian som tam salad!

Traditionally, the garlic and chilis are mashed together first with the mortar and pestle, then the lime is added. Some people smash the peanuts as well, while others add the peanuts in last so they're not crushed. Then, the tomatoes are lightly smashed before adding in all the rest of the ingredients.

In Thailand, the som tum maker usually takes a taste of the sauce to adjust the seasonings, if needed, and, if you're buying your papaya salad from a street vendor, they'll often offer you a taste too before packing it up for you or plating it.