Vegan Som Tum (Thai Green Papaya Salad)

by - August 06, 2014

  I have a Thai friend who wouldn't stop talking about Som Tum. 

  Minty (that's her name, BTW. Pretty cool no?) ADORES Som Tum. Which is, for the non-thai-speaking-slash-thai-food-fluent out there, Thai green papaya salad. And even though I had never EVER tried Som Tum before, I pretty much found myself dreaming about it.

  Note to self: stop talking to Minty about food.

  So I had this flawless plan: I would wait until school was over, fly over to Singapore and buy everything I needed to become a som tum making goddess. Because have you tried to find green papaya in the UK? 
  Geez Louise.

  However, I was informed by a very unreliable source (read: my mother) that a green papaya was just a really underripe papaya, and all I had to do was buy a normal ripen-at-home papaya and use it before it had actually ripened. So it must be peasy to get your hands on one, right? Supermarkets in Singapore are full of ripen-at-home fruit. 
  Until, well, I realised that a green papaya and the underripe papayas sold in supermarkets were deifntely not the same degree of ripeness. To begin with, the ones in the supermarkets were already way into orange-dom.
  So I headed off to Mustafa Centre, which is supposedly the place where you can get pretty much anything. Anything... except for green papayas. It was partially my luck, to be honest. We were experiencing (and I quote) a 'papaya shortage', Mustafa had run out of green papayas.
  *cue panic attack when I discovered I had to wait EVEN LONGER before I tried the magic that was Som Tum (I blame Minty) 

  Eventually, though. I found it. But I suppose the one thing I was trying to get across from this seemingly pointless anecdote was that if you cannot get your hands on a green papaya (a) hold it together; and (b) you can always use an under-ripe mango or a cucumber. 

 Also, this papaya salad is made in a pestle and mortar. This is to infuse the papaya with the dressing and make it oh-so-much-more flavourful. But if you do not have a pestle and mortar (a) keep holding it together (panic attacks when it comes to not having som tum are not cool); and (b) you can use a sturdy wooden (or plastic but I don't like using it for food) bowl and a rolling pin with the handles removed. 
  Another tip: do not pound the living daylights out of your papaya, you are supposed to hit it gently and move it about. It should still hold its crunch.
  Okay, maybe having Minty to guide me through the dos and do-nots of Som Tum making really helped. I may resume talking about food with her.

  This recipe is vegan, so it lacks the traditional fish sauce. You can always make you own vegan version of fish sauce and use it in place of the miso, soy sauce and salt in this recipe. A very good recipe for vegan fish sauce can be found here.

  I know som tum with soya sauce can really infuriate purists. I do apologise for messing with the beloved som tum. But look at it this way: now even vegetarians can fall in love with this sweet-and-salty salad. It's really a win-win.

Vegan Som Tum
Serves: Three as a side

3 cups shredded green papaya (or unripe mango or cucumber)

2 garlic cloves, minced
1 chilli padi, sliced
1 tsp miso paste
Juice of 1/2 a lime
2 tbsp coconut palm sugar (also called gula melaka)
3 tbsp ground, roasted peanuts
1 tbsp soy sauce 
1/2 tsp asafoetida (optional but really mimics the umami-ness of fish sauce)

1/4 cup bean sprouts, tips removed 
15 french beans, raw or blanched
Salt, to taste
10 cherry tomatoes, sliced into halves

To shred the green papaya, you have several options, I used a coconut meat scraper to get noodles out of the green papaya, as pictured above. However I do know that not many people have this. So, after using a peeler to remove the green skin of the papaya, you can either use a julienne peeler, or you can use this method to get papaya strips.

Place the garlic, chilli, miso, lime juice, sugar, peanuts, soy sauce and asafoetida into the mortar and pestle and pound it to get a more even consistency. As my mortar and pestle is not big enough to hold all 3 cups of papaya, I first decant the dressing into a separate bowl and pour about a third of it back into the mortar, then add about a cup of papaya and pound gently. I then add a third of the bean sprouts, french beans and tomatoes and pound gently again, then season it with a little extra salt after tasting it. Pour everything out onto a plate before repeating this two more times with the remaining two thirds of ingredients.

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