This spicy papaya salad is also sometimes spelled Tom Som or Som Tum in Thai, but I think my spelling is more phonetically accurate. It is a staple of mom's repetoire. Usually eaten with sticky rice or pork cracklin's or pork rinds, mom made it really very spicy. It has a complex but not subtle flavor that evolves after your first few bites. Usually it starts with salty and savory from the pork rind, leading to the sweet of the tomato, greeness of the papaya then tartness of the lime and tamarind, followed shortly by holy *#!! get me something to drink. If you made it right, after a few bites, all you can taste is fire and endorphins.
Making this dish requires some practice... a lot of the taste will vary depending on your ingredients (i.e. the spiciness of your chilles or the sourness of your limes) and you will have to be able to taste the sauce and modify appropriately. A real pro can tell if the sauce is right even before mixing it into the papaya and tomato mix- that is crucial because added ingredients do not mix uniformly into the papaya and you end up with hot/sour spots.It will also require some sort of stone mortar. The classic kind is a clay lao mortar, but a Mexican stone mortar will do just as well, though it may not be big enough to mix the papaya directly into. (not a big deal)
This recipe will make enough for about 4-6 people depending on how much they can tolerate the heat.
- 1 Green (unripe) Papaya, peeled
- About 4 to 6 Carrots also shredded will do in a pinch. This was the most common form of Dum Sohm we had growing up before Asian markets sprung up in Poughkeepsie. I have heard cucumbers will also work, but have never tried that.
- 6 Cherry Tomatoes Sliced or 1 Plum Tomatoe Coarsely Chopped
- 4-12 Thai Peppers, Sliced
- 4 Large Cloves Garlic, Sliced
- 1 1/2 Tsp Salt
- 2 tsp Sugar
- 1 tsp Tamarind Paste soaked with just enough boiling water (I just nuke a small cup) to soften it
- 1 tablespoon Fish Sauce
- Juice from 1 Lime
- 1/2 tsp crab paste or 1 tablespoon rinsed dried shrimp (optional)
- 3 tablespoons chopped roasted peanuts
- Shred the Papaya
- This is done by whacking the side of the papaya with a knife and then using a peeler to peel off thin strips, resulting in a fine julienne. This process in Lao resembles a foul word in English that starts with the letter 'F' and rhymes with duck.
- If you are in a rush, a grater will also suffice, but may result in a slightly mushy result
- Also, you can buy a jullienne tool that looks like a peeler with a rippled blade that works faily well for this.
- Put the rest of the ingredients, except the tomatoes and peanuts into a mortar and smash and combine well, paying particular attention to the tamarind paste and dried shrimps.
- Add more hot pepper, fish sauce, lime and/or sugar (be careful with the fish sauce) to taste
- Gently but thoroughly mix in the papaya and tomatoes. This can be done in a separate bowl if necessary.
- Plate onto a dish, then garnish with nuts.
- Adjust the final taste as needed. (This step is for amateurs only)