Food Afield: Som Tam Goong Sod

Typically when people think of Thai food they think curry, rice, noodles, and, for those with a less adventurous stomach, massive indigestion. Less consideration goes to the fact that traditional Thai food is all about fresh ingredients that can make for some very healthy dishes. One of these I recently became obsessed with during a trip to southern Thailand: Som Tam, or green papaya salad.

When it comes to cooking, I have two basic guidelines:

1) I don’t do it if I don’t have to.
2) If I have to, keep it simple and the amount of dishes to clean to a minimum.

So it was no small leap for me to agree to sign up for a cooking course with the head chef at our hotel on Koh Yao, an island just off the coast of Phuket. I’m a huge fan of Thai food as it is, and as I’ve tried to expand my somewhat narrow cooking horizons, this seemed like a perfect motivation to get an apron on me.

Thankfully our chef shared the common Thai trait of sublime patience as he coached us through preparing a few basic dishes, and with minimal fuss we ate like kings with each course. I was thrilled with all of them, but none grabbed me as much as the Som Tam salad, due to both how delicious it was and how ridiculously simple it was to make a salad that can easily stand as a meal by itself.

Serves: 2
Needed: Mortar & pestle, medium saucepan

Ingredients

  • 1/2 green papaya, sliced into matchstick-like pieces (julienned)
  • 1- 2 cups bean sprouts
  • 1/2 carrot, sliced into matchstick-like pieces (julienned)
  • 2 tomatoes, cut into small wedges
  • 1/2 cup green spring beans
  • 1/2 cucumber, sliced
  • 1 tbsp. dry roasted peanuts
  • 6 medium shrimp
  • 1-2 garlic cloves
  • 1 lime, cut in quarters
  • 3 tbsp. fish sauce
  • 1-2 tbsp. palm sugar (to taste)
  • 1 tbsp. dried shrimp
  • 1-2 Thai red chillies (depending on how much spice you can handle)
  • 2 sprigs fresh basil

Preparation

Boil the shrimp in the saucepan until cooked.

(Tip: The “julienne” strips of papaya and carrot are much, much easier with a julienne peeler)

Add chillies and garlic to the mortar, squeeze the lime juice in, and grind together (or “pok pok” as they call it in Thai). Once they’re well mixed, add one spoonful of each the fish sauce and palm sugar and continue grinding. Add the papaya and carrot slices, bean sprouts, green beans, tomato slices, and lime pieces, and grind a few more times to mix, adding palm sugar and fish sauce as necessary to taste.

Portion out into bowls and top with the shrimp and ground peanuts, garnish with sliced cucumber and basil on the side, then try to keep yourself from devouring it as fast as possible.

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