Traditional Thai salad with a perfect Southeast Asian balance of salty, sweet, sour, fragrant, and spicy. I have spent a lot of time in Thailand, and in some ways it is like a second home to me. Funny enough, out of all the exquisite Thai dishes out there, Som Tam is my favorite. This is the classic way to make it, taught to me by a little old Thai lady who ran a food stall in Chiang Mai. The flavor profile must stay the same to keep the balance, but you can change the vegetable or fruit you use in it. I have used zucchini and apple for instance which works really well, and the classic papaya is always good. The nuts can be changed to cashew or macadamia, anything rich and soft in flavor, but still adds texture.
- 1 unripe green mango (peeled and shredded)
- 1 medium carrot (no need to peel, but shred)
- 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 ten skinny green beans diced very fine
- about ten/twelve cherry tomatoes halved
- 3 teaspoons of palm sugar (brown is a fine substitute)
- ½ teaspoon shrimp paste
- 2 ½ teaspoons fish sauce
- about 15 peanuts, out of the shell and peeled
- one whole juicy lime (or two small, and if you can get kafir lines 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)
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 to a green mango. It makes the salad more tart and meaty in fact but is just as good.
First peel and shred your mango. You can do this in a number of ways. The Thai people have a great tool that you can buy just about anywhere and its similar to a vegetable peeler but has small triangular bumps on the blade. This makes for great shredding. But if you don’t have this (this blade also comes on some hand held mandolins) you can do the old school Thai way. They take a big sharp knife and start stabbing at it in a vertical direction all the way through to the pit. You may want to slice a tiny bit of the other side off first so it remains flat lying on a board. After you have stabbed all the areas of the mango, put the mango right side up and thinly slice from the outside towards the pit so little noodles fall away.
Don’t peel the carrot, just grate it or shred it as thin as you can. You can also use a mandolin to cut ribbons then dice the ribbons into noodles or thin strips.
Take a large bowl and set aside.
Take your mortar and pestle and put in your chopped garlic, coriander root, half of your green beans, 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 mango 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 bowl and wash and dry your mortar and pestle. Put your peanuts in and pound until all broken up.
Now add your green beans and coriander to the mango and carrot and top with the dressing and peanuts. Toss to coat.
Serve immediately as the acid in the dressing will soften and “cook” the mango and carrot making it limp.