This delicious vegan recipe for Thai Green Papaya Salad is everything you could possibly want from a salad: crunchy, sweet, sour, spicy and salty. Also known as Som Tam, this yummy, healthy salad is sure to put some pep in your step.
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Why I Love This Recipe
As spring approaches, I have a tendency to crave bright, fresh flavors and all the fruits and veggies I can get my hands on.
This delectable green papaya salad recipe hits all the right notes for my cravings. It is loaded with crunchy ingredients and tossed in a spicy, sour dressing that is positively addictive.
I also love how simple this recipe is to put together. With just a few minutes worth of effort, I can have a big bowl of flavorful goodness ready for me to devour.
Since green papaya salad is also quite healthy, I can eat as much as I want without feeling the least bit guilty.
So what are you waiting for? Grab what you need to make this yummy raw papaya salad and get to the kitchen!
Som Tam Ingredients
Once you try this green papaya salad recipe, you’ll be hooked on the awesome flavor. Also, don’t be intimidated by the ingredient list. While it might look a bit long, the ingredients are quite easy to find.
Just a few notes to consider for the ingredients:
- Green Papaya – green papaya is the unripened version of this popular fruit. When choosing your papaya, look for a uniform, bright green appearance and a firm consistency. It shouldn’t yield to pressure when you squeeze.
- Tamarind – this is a key ingredient in green papaya salad and I don’t recommend that you omit it. I make my own tamarind water from dried tamarind pulp.
- Soy Sauce – I use soy sauce to impart vegetarian umami flavor to my som tam without using fish sauce, which is a more traditional ingredient.
- Lemon Juice – wherever possible, use fresh lemon juice over bottled for a superior flavor.
- Bird’s Eye Chilies – native to Southeast Asia, bird’s eye chiles are roughly 10-20 times spicier than jalapeños and have an almost fruity flavor behind all their heat.
- Sea Salt – as with most recipes, salt brings all the flavors together in this Thai Som Tam recipe. Be sure to taste the final product and add more salt as necessary.
- Palm Sugar: traditionally the sweet notes in the raw papaya salad comes from palm sugar and this is what I always add.
- Tart taste: If you do not have dried tamarind, then use ½ to 1 tablespoon of packaged tamarind sauce (depending on how sour it is). If you can’t find any tamarind, increase the lemon juice used to somewhat mimic the sour flavor.
- Make it gluten-free: If you are avoiding gluten, you can opt for Tamari. If soy is off the table, reach for coconut aminos instead.
- Alter the pungency: You can use piri piri peppers in place of bird’s eye chiles depending on what you have available. Also, feel free to increase or decrease the amount used depending on your heat tolerance.
- Salt: While I reach for sea salt as my primary seasoning, you can opt to use kosher salt, Himalayan pink salt or table salt instead.
- Sweeteners: Other sweeteners like coconut sugar, raw sugar, jaggery also work well in the recipe.
- Long Beans & Carrots – we do not eat raw beans, so I omitted them from my recipe. However, if you want a more traditional Thai papaya salad, feel free to add them. You can also add grated carrots to the mix if you like.
How to Make Green Papaya Salad
Make Tamarind Water
1. For tamarind water, soak ½ teaspoon dried tamarind in 2 tablespoons hot water for 15 to 20 minutes.
2. Squeeze the tamarind with clean fingers and add the pulp to the water in the bowl. Set aside.
3. Rinse, pat dry and peel small to medium green papaya (400 grams). Halve it vertically. Remove any of the tiny white seeds and pith. Grate or shred using a food processor or a box grater.
Make Raw Papaya Salad Dressing
4. In a mortar, take 3 to 4 small bird’s eye chillies, roughly chopped and 2 medium garlic cloves.
5. Using a pestle and mortar, mash the bird’s eye chilies and garlic together. If using long beans, then add 2 to 3 beans (chopped) at this step.
6. Add the following savory ingredients. Mash and mix everything to a loose paste.
- prepared tamarind water or ½ to 1 tablespoon packaged tamarind sauce (adjust depending on the sourness)
- 2 tablespoons roasted peanuts
- 2 tablespoons palm sugar (replace with brown sugar or coconut sugar or white sugar)
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce (or tamari for a gluten-free dressing)
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- sea salt as needed (or kosher salt, himalayan pink salt or edible food grade rock salt)
7. Add 1 small chopped tomato or 3 to 4 halved cherry tomatoes.
8. Mash the tomatoes a bit, but not too much.
Make Green Papaya Salad
9. Pour this mixture in the bowl containing the shredded papaya.
10. Mix very well and mash a bit to soften the unripe raw papaya. Check the taste and add more salt, palm sugar, lemon juice, crushed bird’s eye chillies or tamarind pulp if needed.
11. Serve Raw Papaya Salad garnished with 1 tablespoon chopped or crushed roasted peanuts and 1 to 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro (coriander leaves). Enjoy!
I love som tam so much that I often eat it all by itself. You can opt to serve it as a side or as a starter. The flavors pair well with pan fried tofu, fried rice, tofu steaks, grilled or sautéed mushrooms, stir fried noodles or fresh, blanched, sautéed or roasted vegetables like carrots, potatoes, brussels sprouts, cabbage, corn on the cobs, green beans, cauliflower, bell pepper or lettuce.
While this recipe tastes best when you eat it fresh, any leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
If you are unable to find green papaya (or you just don’t like the taste of papaya), you can opt to sub in cucumber, green mango, carrot or cabbage instead.
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Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam)
For tamarind water
- ½ teaspoon tamarind – dried
- 2 tablespoons water
- 2.5 cups shredded unripe papaya – 400 grams
- ½ teaspoon chopped garlic or 2 medium garlic cloves
- 3 to 4 bird's eye chillies can add less or more as required
- 1 tomato – small sized or 2 to 3 cherry tomatoes
- 2 to 3 long beans or green beans – optional
- 2 tablespoons roasted peanuts
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce – naturally brewed or fermented
- 2 tablespoons palm sugar or add as required, check 5ᵗʰ point in notes below
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice or add as required
- sea salt as per taste, check 4ᵗʰ point in notes below
- 1 tablespoon chopped roasted peanuts or crushed peanuts
- 1 to 2 tablespoons cilantro – optional
Making tamarind water
- For tamarind water, soak the dried tamarind in the hot water for 15 to 20 minutes. Squeeze the tamarind and add the pulp to the water. Set aside.
Grating green papaya
- Rinse, pat dry and peel the unripe green papaya. Halve it vertically. Remove any of the tiny white seeds and pith. Grate or shred using a food processor or a box grater.
Making salad dressing
- In a mortar, take the birds eye chillies and garlic cloves. Using a pestle and mortar, mash the bird's eye chilies and garlic together. If using long beans, then add 2 to 3 beans (chopped) at this step.
- Add the prepared tamarind water, palm sugar, soy sauce, lemon juice and sea salt as needed to the mortar. Mash and mix everything to a loose paste.
- Add chopped tomato or halved cherry tomatoes. Mash the tomatoes a bit, but not too much.
Making papaya salad
- Pour dressing mixture in the bowl containing the shredded papaya. Mix very well and mash a bit to soften the unripe papaya. Check the taste and add more salt, palm sugar, lemon juice, crushed bird's eye chillies or tamarind pulp if needed.
- Serve garnished with chopped roasted peanuts and cilantro.
- Som tam tastes awesome as it is. But you can choose to serve it as a side or as a starter with a Thai main course.
- The papaya salad flavors pair well with pan fried tofu, fried rice, stir fried noodles, grilled or sautéed mushrooms, tofu steaks, or fresh, blanched, sautéed or roasted vegetables like carrots, potatoes, brussels sprouts, corn on the cobs, cabbage, green beans, cauliflower, bell pepper or lettuce.
- The salad will keep in the refrigerator for up to two days. You can eat it cold or let it come to room temperature before serving.
- Tamarind: If you are unable to find dried tamarind, substitute ½ to 1 tablespoon of packaged tamarind paste or sauce, depending on how sour it is.
- Soy sauce: Tamari or coconut aminos are acceptable substitutes for soy sauce.
- Alter the pungency: You can use piri piri peppers in place of bird’s eye chiles depending on what you have available. Also, feel free to increase or decrease the amount of chillies depending on your heat tolerance.
- Salt: While I prefer sea salt, you can opt to use kosher salt, Himalayan pink salt or table salt instead.
- Sweeteners: You can opt to use sweeteners like coconut sugar, raw sugar, jaggery, brown sugar that also work well in the recipe.
- Long Beans & Carrots – We do not eat raw beans, so I do not include them in my recipe. However, if you want a more traditional Thai green papaya salad, feel free to add them. You can also add grated carrots if you like.