In Thailand this salad is always made with green papaya but I find that in England it is very hard to come by so I adapted the recipe several times with the dressing always remaining the same basic ingredients. This past spring we had some amazing Asparagus and I was buying loads of it. I like to grill them as it brings out there nuttiness. I decided to try it out with the Thai Som Tam dressing and it worked really well as the aparagus has such a strong flavor and can stand up to the Thai seasoning. I added some grilled leeks for texture, and replaced the usual peanut topping with seeds.
6 large Aparagus peeled and ends chopped off
4 to 5 baby leeks end and tops chopped off
5 green onions diced
2-3 large cloves of garlic chopped roughly
1 red Thai chili roughly chopped (take out the seeds if you are sensitive to spice)
1 large handful of coriander and its roots (chop leaves roughly and chop roots finely)
about 7/8 cherry tomatoes halved
3 teaspoons of palm sugar (brown is a fine substitute)
½ teaspoon shrimp paste (leave out if vegan)
2 ½ teaspoons fish sauce
about 3 to 4 tablespoons of mixed seeds
1 whole juicy lime (or two small, and if you can get kafir limes it is an amazing boost of flavor, far more fragrant and perfumed)
Equipment Required: large mortar and pestle (you can use a food processor for the dressing but its not the same effect, but entirely possible)
First grill your leek and asparagus. I like to steam them for about two minutes, or until they are bright green, then I dry them in paper towels and place them onto a very hot grill pan. Place a pan or plate on top to create grill marks. Grill on each side for about four minutes. The leeks cook faster than the asparagus so keep an eye on them. When they done, cut them into the desired size for your salad and set aside.
Take your mortar and pestle and put in your chopped garlic, coriander root, palm sugar, and chili. Pound for about 3 to 4 minutes, or until it is in a fine paste. Then add your tomatoes and shrimp paste. Pound again until all the tomatoes are broken up and have turned into juice. Then add your lime and fish sauce. Take a taste and see if you need to add a little more of anything. The flavor should be very powerful as when it hits the asparagus it mellows quite a bit, so at first it may seem very strong, but its not. It should have a good balance of sweet-spicy-sour-salty. Adjust to your own taste. Pour the sauce into a serving bowl. Add your asparagus and leeks. Add your seeds, green onions, coriander leaves, and fresh sprouts. Serve immediately.