Just one of many examples of som tam that has nothing to do with green papaya (I do like to add some for this rendition, but you could certainly leave it out) and almost everything to do with the method of preparation: made in a clay mortar, the salad requires the same gentle pounding that aims to bruise but not smash the main ingredients, allowing some of the sweet-tart dressing to pervade. Use any fruit you want, even if it’s just one or two kinds. Be sure to choose fruit that strikes a good balance between sweetness and tartness. If the fruit is very sweet, you’ll want to scale back on the sugar and perhaps bump up the lime juice. This recipe is excerpted from Pok Pok. Read our review.
Som Tam Phonlamai (Thai Fruit Salad)
- 1 generous Tbs. medium-size dried shrimp, rinsed and patted dry
- 1 oz. palm sugar
- 1/4 tsp. water
- 1 small lime (preferably a Key lime), halved through the stem
- 2 fresh Thai chiles, preferably red
- 1 Tbs. lime juice (preferably from Key limes or spiked with a small squeeze of Meyer lemon juice)
- 1 Tbs. Thai fish sauce
- 1 oz. peeled, shredded green papaya (about 1/2 cup, lightly packed)
- 14 grams peeled carrot, cut into long (about 3-inch), thin (about 1/8-inch) strips (about 1/4 cup, lightly packed)
- 8 oz. mixed crunchy, sweet, and tart fruit (such apple, pear, pineapple, green mango, and persimmon), any inedible skin peeled, cut into irregular 1-inch chunks
- 8 to 10 grapes, halved
- 2 oz. cherry tomatoes (about 4), halved, or quartered if very large
- 2 generous Tbs. coarsely chopped unsalted roasted peanuts
- Heat a small dry pan or wok over medium heat, add the dried shrimp, and cook, stirring frequently, until they’re dry all the way through and slightly crispy, about 5 minutes. Set them aside in a small bowl to cool. They’ll keep covered at room temperature for up to 1 week.
- Put the palm sugar in a small microwavable bowl, sprinkle on the 1/4 tsp. of water, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and microwave on low just until the sugar has softened (not liquefied), 10 to 30 seconds. Pound the mixture in a mortar (or mash it in the bowl) until you have a smooth paste. Covered, it will keep soft for up to 2 days.
- Cut one of the lime halves lengthwise into thirds, then cut the thirds in half crosswise. Set aside 2 of the pieces (reserve the remaining lime for another purpose).
- Combine the chiles and 1 heaping tsp. (or less if the fruit is very sweet) of the softened palm sugar in a large clay mortar and pound just until you have a chunky sludge with medium pieces of chile, 5 to 10 seconds.
- Add the 2 lime wedges and pound very lightly and briefly, just to release the juice, then add the shrimp and pound lightly just to release their flavor (don’t smash or pulverize them).
- Add the lime juice, fish sauce, papaya, and carrot. The next step is easy but subtle. You want to use the pestle to barely bruise the papaya (lightly pounding at a slight angle, not directly up-and-down) for about 10 seconds, while simultaneously using a large spoon to scoop up from the bottom of the mortar, essentially tossing the papaya, palm sugar mixture, and the other ingredients as you pound. Do not smash the papaya. It should remain crisp.
- Add the fruit, including the grapes, and pound the same way you did the papaya, barely bruising the fruit and definitely not smashing it.
- Add the tomatoes and pound lightly, just to release the juice. Taste the salad and if necessary, season with additional lime juice and fish sauce to achieve a salad that’s, in descending order of prominence, sweet from the fruit, spicy, sour, and a little salty.
- Finally, add the peanuts and mix well with the spoon. Transfer to a plate, liquid and all, in a low mound, and serve.