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Thai Green Papaya Salad or Som Tam

Kellie Lund from United States

30 minutes
Cooks in
15 minutes
Country of origin

Growing up as a small town girl from Minnesota, I was a picky-eater that didn’t explore much beyond fried chicken and pizza. Thankfully, during college, when my diet of American fried food became redundant, I was forced to explore out of my comfort zone. My boredom drove me to the doors of Thai restaurants in Minneapolis where I was greeted by extraordinary new delights. This eye-opening discovery accompanied my aching need to escape my hometown and travel the world and define my passion. This led me to move to South Korea. Here, I discovered my favorite Thai dish: Green Papaya Salad or Som Tam in Thai. Sitting at a Thai restaurant in Seoul, I joyfully indulged in a bright plate of soft yet crunchy shredded green papaya, dripping with a juicy, chili-spiced, lime-tangy sauce balanced with the sweetness of palm sugar and a slightly funky pleasure of what I later learned to be fish sauce. Each crushed peanut coated, crunchy-tart bite of papaya was matched with a succulent mouthful of slightly sweet prawn. There it hit me; I wanted to make foreign recipes more accessible to other curious but fearful people like my old self. I made my way to Thailand and into a cooking class, where I learned that Thai dishes, like my beloved Som Tam, could be adjusted for taste preference and for local ingredient availability. This meant that I could alter my favorite foreign dish just enough so I could share it with mom by decreasing the fish sauce and using chicken instead of prawn. This flexible recipe idea further inspired my vision to make a website that provides easy instructions to alter international dishes’ basic recipes to fit personal taste and dietary needs. Thai food opened up the world to me and empowered me to face the challenges of living overseas. Now, flash-forward to living in Vietnam, I’m still in my kitchen, making Som Tam many different ways (hence my varying photos!) & tapping into my entrepreneurial spirit as I set out to revolutionize the way recipes are shared.


  • *A note on protein choice: Typically in Thailand this salad comes with poached shrimp. Vietnam’s version also often includes poached pork belly. It may not be as authentic, but for some, shredded chicken may be the more natural choice. It is also absolutely fine to eat this salad without any meat, or choose sliced, fried tofu for a vegetarian friendly option.
  • *A note on green papaya: Do not confuse this with regular papaya. Green papaya should be totally green on the outside and hard when you tap it. If you cannot find this fruit, green mango is a common substitute. If that’s not available to you either, just carrots and green apple is great. Or, especially for low-carb diets: thinly sliced fresh coconut bark (aka heart of palm), or anything from shredded rutabaga, kohlrabi, radish, cabbage, cucumber or any crunchy fruit or veggie will be okay! Even in Thailand this salad has evolved is served with different ingredients.
  • *A note on Mortar and Pestle salad bruising and assembly: If you have a mortar and pestle- great! If not, don’t let that deter you from making this fresh salad! You’ll have to be resourceful…I suggest using a glass jar with a screw-top to make the sauce-dressing and a large plastic zipped bag and a somewhat heavy and non-fragile object like a rolling pin to pound or bruise the vegetables.
  • Protein:
  • 2 chicken breasts, poached and shredded or 10 large prawn, (defrosted), deveined and poached and/or 200g pork belly, poached and sliced thinly or 1-2 packages tofu, sliced thinly and fried
  • Vegetables/Fruits:
  • 4 C green papaya or green mango (or other option, see above), shredded with a hand shredding tool or julienned with a mandoline or knife
  • 1 large carrot, shredded or julienned
  • 3 tomatoes cut into wedges
  • 2 C of chopped Chinese long beans (cut in ~4cm chunks, optional to blanch for 2 minutes)
  • 1-4 birds eye chili peppers (depending on your heat preference)
  • Optional additions: julienned red bell pepper, avocado, julienned cucumber. Or, add a fruit on top (no pounding in the mortar for soft fruits). Sliced ripe mango, thinly sliced pineapple or strawberries are all awesome additions
  • Herbs and toppings:
  • ½- ¾ C fresh coriander, roughly chopped
  • ⅓ C skinless, roasted, unsalted peanuts (or roasted pine nuts)
  • Optional: 1-2 small purple shallots, sliced finely or chopped, 1-3 T toasted sesame seeds, ⅓ C mint (and/or Vietnamese mint leaves), 1/3 C Thai Basil
  • For the sauce-dressing:
  • 4 T fresh lime juice
  • 1 – 4 T fish sauce (start with 1 and gradually add more until you find Your Umami)
  • 1.5 T coconut palm sugar (or honey for lo-carb diets)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 – 4 Bird’s eye chilies (depending on your spice preference- you can start with 1 and add more)
  • 2 T dried shrimp (optional)
  • Optional: 1 T of water or mild flavored oil to thin or help balance the sauce a bit, in case it’s too sour or hot. Adjust the sauce to your liking. More or less sugar to determine sweetness, more or less lime juice to make it more tangy, an extra chili pepper for more spicy heat, and more fish sauce for more saltiness and funky umami fragrance.


  • 1. Make the sauce
  • If using a mortar and pestle: first throw in the chilies and bruise with the pestle, then add the garlic and dried shrimps and continue to pound, then scoop this out into a bowl and add the palm sugar, squeeze in the lime juice and fish sauce and stir with a fork until dissolved.
  • If using a jar: squeeze the lime juice and fish sauce, add the minced garlic, dried shrimps and chilies (slightly bruised with something like the heavy end of a knife- for more heat) to a screw-top jar and shake until well combined. * Remember: the more you pound the chilies, the spicier it gets! And be careful not to get chili in your eye.
  • 2. Prep all vegetables and fruits as directed (for ex. shred or julienne the green papaya and carrot, cut the tomatoes into wedges, cut the long beans into wedges, etc.)
  • 3. Cook your protein
  • For poached prawn: -Heat water to an “ouch-hot” temperature, and salt: Simmer a wok or pot of water at a medium heat, not a real boil, as this will toughen the meat. Add a pinch of salt to the water. -Prepare the post-cook ice bath, a bowl with ice and water. -Add prawn to the pot, stir and cook for about 2 minutes or when they begin to turn opaque. -Check for doneness: Take out one prawn and dip it in the ice bath so it’s not too hot to touch, and just peel off it’s feet/tail (if you had un-cleaned shrimp to start), and then tear it in half to confirm that the inside meat is opaque white throughout, and therefore, done. -Put all shrimp in the ice bath: For only about 1 minute. Too long and they could get waterlogged or soggy.
  • For poached chicken: *Notes: Pan-frying chicken is also great. For the more typical Thai style preparation, you can poach the chicken. Please use this same technique for Poached Pork Belly, but instead of shredding the meat, you would thinly slice the pork.
  • Heat and Salt water to an “ouch-hot” temperature and cook the chicken about 3-5 minutes on each side (turn once) until done.
  • Check to make sure there is no pink rawness to the meat. Remove the chicken from the heat, drain the water. (You can give the chicken breasts a couple of grill marks by now putting it on a heated grill or grill pan, but it’s not necessary. It just adds a bit of a grill-charred look and bit of flavor).
  • Shred the chicken with two forks and place aside in a large bowl with a plate on top to keep hot. Alternatively, put in the fridge if you’d like to have cold chicken with the cold salad.
  • If using a mortar and pestle: Add tomatoes and gently pound (or bruise) them. Add long beans and pound a few more times as you also rotate the ingredients with a large spoon.
  • If using a plastic zipped bag and a rolling pin: Add the tomatoes and long beans to the large plastic bag and take turns pounding the ingredients with a rolling pin and shaking to rotate the ingredients. You want everything to be bruised lightly, not smashed until mushy or too soft.
  • . Add the sauce-dressing (to either your mortar or your plastic zipped bag), the shredded green papaya and carrot, and gently pound- only enough to bruise the papaya- again, not so it gets mushy.
  • 2. Add your protein and herbs to your salad mix, stir, and plate the salad. Top with crushed peanuts (or toasted sesame seeds, fresh fruit or any additions), and top with more fresh herbs.
  • Enjoy the exotic burst of flavor 🙂


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