Both Laos and the northeastern Isan region of Thailand lay claim to this classic. In Thai it is called som tum , meaning "mashed sour", for the tart, acidic flavor, and the process of mashing ingredients together while making this much-loved dish. Recipe contains affiliate links.
Time: 20 mins
- 2-4 Thai bird's eye chili peppers, coarsely chopped
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
- 3 tablespoons palm sugar (can substitute same amount brown sugar)
- 5-10 small (cherry or plum) tomatoes
- 5-10 green beans
- 4 cups shredded green papaya
- 2 limes, halved
- 4 tablespoons shelled roasted peanuts (optional)
- 1/4 cup dried crickets (unseasoned)
Shred the Papaya Some Asian supermarkets will sell bags of shredded, under-ripe, papaya, perfect for papaya salad. If you would like to prepare the papaya yourself, you can peel it with either a small knife, or carrot peeler. Next, shred the papaya using a julienne peeler, the largest cheese grater you can find, or you can hack at it with a large knife, like they do in Thailand. If you decide to go the traditional route and hack at the papaya, hold it firmly over a large mixing bowl and make several deep, vertical cuts in the papaya, then shave off the top layer into thin slivers, until you have enough papaya slivers for your salad. Stop cutting when you see the white immature seeds at the center of the papaya. Discard any seeds that fall into your mixing bowl.
Make the Dressing If you have a very large, wooden, mortar and pestle, you can toss all dressing ingredients in the mortar, mashing and mixing as you add the ingredients. If you do not have one, you can puree the dressing in a food processor, then pound the beans with a mallet or meat tenderizer until they are slightly softened or bruised, and set aside until you are ready to combine all ingredients.
Mix the dressing in with the papaya, making sure to pound with a pestle, or large wooden spoon. Ensure the palm sugar is fully dissolved. Lightly squeeze the lemon halves before adding, to release some (but not all) the juice. Add the peanuts, tomatoes, and beans next to last, so that they get only lightly mashed.
Add crickets last, but do not mash them. They should stay intact to add a light crunchy texture of their own, not get mashed. Toss salad until all ingredients are thoroughly mixed.
Serve and eat immediately, to enjoy papaya crunch. If you wish to prepare everything ahead of time, keep the dressing in the fridge and away from the vegetables until you’re ready to serve.
NOTE If you can't find any green papayas, anything with a crunchy carrot-like texture can be substituted. It is up to you if you want something with a neutral, papaya-like, flavor, or if you want to really embrace the "mashed sour" with an under-ripe mango.
This recipe is included in Bugs for Beginners, a cookbook which teaches Westerners how to prepare and safely eat insects.