How to Make Thai Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam)

  • 01 of 08

    Step #1: Choose a Green Papaya.

    Green papaya
    Mixa/Getty Images

    For a one-page version of this recipe, see: Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam), OR Easy Green Papaya Salad.

    Step #1: Buying a Green Papaya. You can try looking for a green papaya at your local supermarket (either 2 Hawaiian papayas or 1 Caribbean type). Personally, I recommend buying one at an Asian store or market, simply because it's difficult to tell whether a papaya is green or actually in one of the latter stages of ripening.

    Asian stores and markets sell green papayas labeled as such....MORE Sometimes they are even sliced open so you can see it is green inside (the seeds will be white).

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  • 02 of 08

    Peel the Green Papaya

    peeling the green papaya
    Peeling the Green Papaya. D.Schmidt

    Slice the papaya in half lengthwise and crack it open. Scrape out the seeds and discard. Then turn over each half and peel off the green skin.

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  • 03 of 08

    Grate or Shred the Papaya.

    Green Papaya Salad
    Shredding the Papaya. D.Schmidt

    You can either use a large-size grater to grate the papaya or shred it as they do in Thailand (pictured here). Simply make many long cuts into the flesh, then thinly slice off the top layer into a bowl. Continue until all the papaya is shredded.

    Any remaining pieces can be chopped up into strips with your knife.

    Note that Thai cooks usually perform an optional step here, bashing the shredded papaya with a pestle to bring out the juice. Another way is to place half the shredded papaya in a food...MORE processor and pulse briefly. Mix this with the remaining papaya.

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  • 04 of 08

    Make the Spice Paste.

    Som Tam Step
    Making the Spice Paste. D.Schmidt

    Use either a pestle & mortar or a chopper/food processor to mince up 3-4 cloves garlic, 1-2 Thai red chilies (OR 3/4 to 2 tsp dried crushed chili, to taste), and a handful of green beans.

    Tip: The green beans are optional. If you have some, use them, as they help to taper the heat of the chilies. If not, this salad is equally delicious without them.

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  • 05 of 08

    Make the Salad Dressing.

    Green Papaya Salad
    Making the Salad Dressing. D.Schmidt

    For the dressing, mix together in a cup:

    • 1/4 cup lime juice
    • 3 Tbsp fish sauce (vegetarians substitute 4 Tbsp. soy sauce)
    • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
    • 1 - 2 Tbsp liquid honey
    • 1 tsp shrimp paste, OR vegetarians substitute 1 tsp ground bean sauce* OR Vegetarian Stir Fry Sauce (Lee Kum Kim brand is good)

    *Note that you need quite a lot of sweetness for this salad in order to balance out the sharpness of the papaya and the lime juice. The dressing should taste sweet with tones of spicy, sour, and salty.

    *Fish sauce,...MORE shrimp paste, ground bean sauce and vegetarian stir-fry sauce are all available by the bottle/jar at Asian food stores.

    *Ground bean sauce is a salty, dark brown sauce made from soy beans.

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  • 06 of 08

    Prepare more Vegetables for the Salad.

    Green Papaya Salad
    Preparing other Vegetables. D.Schmidt

    Cut up a medium-size cucumber plus 3 green onions into matchstick-like pieces. Also slice up 2 tomatoes into thin wedges or strips. Chop up 1/2 to 3/4 cup fresh coriander, 1/4 cup fresh basil or mint, and 1/4 cup roasted peanuts.

    1-2 cups bean sprouts add some extra crunch. For additional protein: add some cooked crab meat or shrimp (optional).

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  • 07 of 08

    Toss the Salad.

    Green Papaya Salad
    Tossing the Salad. D.Schmidt

    In a large salad bowl, combine all the vegetables together with the green papaya and spice paste. Pour the salad dressing over and toss well. Top with some chopped/ground peanuts.

    Taste-test the salad for a balance of spicy, salty, sour and sweet flavors. If you'd prefer it saltier, add more fish sauce or soy sauce (or sea salt). If you prefer it sweeter, drizzle a little more liquid honey. More chili can be added if you want it spicier. If too sweet or too salty for your taste, add another...MORE squeeze of lime juice.

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  • 08 of 08

    Serve Your Som Tam!

    Thai Green Papaya Salad
    Thai Green Papaya Salad (here I've added some cooked shrimp for a complete dinner salad. Fried tofu also works well.). Copyright Darlene A. Schmidt, 08/20/10

    Pile the salad onto salad plates or into bowls. Top with some more fresh basil and chopped/ground peanuts.

    Note that in Thailand Green Papaya Salad is nearly always eaten with a side of sticky rice. Give it a try, and ENJOY!

    To make sticky rice, see: How to Make Sticky Rice (stovetop recipe), OR Easy Sticky Rice Recipe (made in a rice cooker).