Austin is pretty much an oven these days. My appetite decreases, but oddly enough I crave spicy foods. Really spicy. Not your average Tex-Mex spicy, but more like habanero level heat. I just realized that I eat something spicy with every each meal I ate. I add a few spoonfuls of my Fiery Jalapeño Salsa to my scrambled eggs for breakfast, a few drops of Sriracha or chili oil to my lunch and then when dinner comes I add a jalapeño or chili to whatever salad we're having. It's pretty crazy if you ask me.
Have you ever wondered why cultures from hotter climates eat really hot food? Just think about traditional Latin American, Indian, African and Southeast Asian food. We love our favorite Ethiopian, Mexican and Indian restaurants for how hot and spicy their dishes are. There is something about spicy food that makes you feel good.
In my opinion it only gets better during the hot summer days. I mean, come on, if you are already sweating, at least do it with a purpose. Spicy food cools you down. Yes it will first make your forehead sweat, but soon after you'll feel a lot better. This is not something that I made up, it's science, bitch, to quote Jesse Pinkman. The scientific term is called gustatory hyperhidrosis also known as gustatory sweating. What happens when eating spicy food is that your internal temperature goes up trying to match the outside temperature. Your blood circulation increases and then you start sweating. Sweat helps the body cool down by producing fluid that evaporates from our skin. If you've ever used a sauna, the effect is similar although the process is different.
I was inspired to make this salad by Roni's latest trip to Thailand and Bhutan. While she was gone, I annoyed her daily with texts asking for pictures of the food she was eating there. This green papaya salad, called Som Tum in Thai, is one of the most common salads that you can find in Thailand. It is a sweet, sour and spicy delight made fresh to order. One suggestion for eating in Thailand is to specify how many chilies to put in your dish at the time of ordering. This rule applies not only to this salad, but to every dish that you eat in Thailand. The level of heat they're accustomed to may be unbearable to us farang (“westerner” in Thai).
The ingredients for this salad can be found at any Asian store. You can even add dried shrimp to make it more authentic. Although I like the taste and texture of dried shrimps, I found that it's not everyone's cup of tea. I usually add 8-10 thai chilies to this dish and the level of heat is higher than the average, but not too crazy. I had a few of my friends over for dinner last week and I served this salad as an appetizer without any major incidents. To cut the heat, just add more tomatoes, lime and if you don't like your salad too sour, a bit more sugar too. Enjoy!
Green Papaya Salad (Som Tum)
Prep time: 25 minutes
- 5-10 Thai chilies, roughly chopped (depending how spicy you like it)
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 TBS palm sugar (or brown sugar)
- 1 TBS fish sauce (replace with seaweed sauce if vegetarian/vegan)
- 2 limes, juiced
- 2 tomatoes, quartered
- 1/4 cup roasted peanuts
- 1 green papaya, shredded
- 1/2 cabbage, shredded
- 1 cup green beans, cut into 2 inch pieces - optional
- 1/4 cup roasted peanuts
- salt or soy sauce, to taste
- In a mortar combine chilies and garlic. Smash them with the wooden pestle until they release the flavor and the oils, about 2-3 minutes. Add sugar and pound until it dissolves into the chili and garlic mix. Add the fish sauce next. Use a spoon (or spatula) in conjunction with the pestle to push the mixture stuck to the sides of the mortar down.
- Squeeze lime wedges and add tomatoes, a handful of peanuts and pound more with the pestle while pushing down the ingredients stuck to the sides of the mortar with the spatula, about 1-2 minutes. I toss a few whole lime wedges in the mortar and only discard them when eating the salad, too.
- Taste and adjust sweetness and sourness, by adding more lime juice or palm sugar.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine papaya and cabbage. Pour the chili concoction from the mortar over the salad and mix well until it is evenly coated. Sprinkle with the rest of the peanuts and serve cold.
- If using a food processor, combine chilies and garlic and pulse for a few times. Add the rest of the ingredients (do not leave the lime wedges in when using the food processor) and give it a few more pulses. Remember, you want a paste with some texture and not completely smooth, so don't overdo it.
- Most Asian stores carry pre-shredded green papaya. If you can't find that shred it yourself by using a julienne peeler. You can also grate the papaya on a box grater, although I like the papaya crunchier. Alternatively, you can use the traditional way of shredding, but I recommend that you watch a video before as it requires above average knife skills. Stop grating/shredding when you get close to the center. Those white immature seeds are not pleasant to taste.
- I prefer consuming this salad fresh so that the papaya and cabbage don't lose their crunchiness, but it stays good for a couple of days in the refrigerator.