I chose to cook from Real Thai, by Nancy McDermott for Cookbook Sundays this week. I love Thai food for the summer, and it’s summer here in Northern California. While it gets hot here, it’s not hot like Thailand hot. We simply don’t have the same humidity…thank you, God. And yet, it does get hot enough (105°F-ish at times) to make cooling foods taste wonderful. The balance of hot, sweet, sour, and salty is incredibly refreshing for some reason. I love the combination of the flavors, and the hint of the herbs that dance around the edges. As you can see by the little post-its, there are a number of recipes marked in my Real Thai cookbook. I use it quite a lot, but for some reason I hadn’t gotten around to using this recipe for Som Tum, or Green Papaya Salad, page 125. That made this a great choice for this week’s Cookbook Sundays.
The cast of characters is simple, yet intriguing… Garlic, chiles, shallot, palm sugar, fish sauce, lime, green beans, shredded green papaya, and a few cherry tomatoes. PS…this isn’t “fast” food, but it sure is good food! There’s a lot of pounding involved. Start with a mortar and pestle to combine the garlic and the chiles. Thai bird chiles are called for, but serrano chiles work reasonably well too. If you aren’t familiar with Thai chiles…they’re hot. Hotter than a serrano, not as hot as a habanero…they’ll get your attention. Until you get familiar with the amount of heat you want, go light on the chiles and adjust your heat with either Garlic Chile Paste or Sriracha. It can be our secret. You can’t adjust the seasonings at this point anyway. Shred the papaya into a large bowl and scrape the garlic and chile paste into that bowl. Pound the papaya shreds for a few minutes, scraping the sides down periodically. You can use the pestle from your set, or you can use a clean bottle that fits comfortably in your hand. Add the fish sauce and the palm sugar with lime juice and the pulp of the lime scraped from the rind and added to the salad. You may need just a pinch of salt to adjust the salty taste without adding more liquid. Continue to pound gently. You don’t have to beat the papaya, just gently pound it until the color of the shredded papaya starts changing from opaque to translucent. Add the cleaned and cut green beans to the papaya, and continue to pound away. The last ingredient you’ll add is the tomatoes…cut in half and pounded ever so gently, so as not to mash them, but just enough to get them to release a bit of juice.
Now is the time to correct your seasonings. You can add more lime if it needs to be more sour….more palm sugar if it needs a little of the tang calmed down…now’s the time to add the chile paste or sriracha if you can stand a bit more heat. Add it a little at a time, tossing the salad and giving it a gentle pounding. Remember, you can’t take the heat back out though!
This is my favorite Thai salad, bar none. I like to add a sprinkling of chopped roasted peanuts , but this particular recipe didn’t call for that. The salad stays crisp…amazingly so. It’s cool, yet spicy with the heat of the chiles, and salty-sweet and sour enough to keep you sneaking another bite. Som Tum (Som as in “Rome” but cut the vowel to about half what we usually allow it; Tum is pronounced like “come”) goes well with any grilled foods. I served it with sliced grilled beef. There are several really great recipes in Real Thai. For the record…I used the spelling as it appears in this particular cookbook. You may find it spelled differently elsewhere. A rose by any other name… *Ü* I just like this dish…I don’t mind so much about the spelling…so far!
Sadly, Susan has decided to give up Cookbook Sundays…
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