As soon as I land in Thailand I have a yen for Som Tam. This spicy, zesty salad is sold on the street, in the bus stations and at all the little restaurants. In fact it’s pretty much everywhere and one of my favourites. I find that I read the menu from top to bottom with all the tempting noodles, seafood and curry dishes and can’t help but order Som Tam.
It’s like a Thai version of cole slaw, with crunchy julienned green papaya, a few shredded carrots and maybe some tomato and snapped up snake beans. It’s healthier than coleslaw, as the dressing is made with lime juice , chopped chillies, garlic and nam pla. It’s topped with a sprinkle of roasted and crushed peanuts. I have to admit this is part of the allure as I am something of a peanut fiend.
There are plenty of variations. The one from the bus station was served in a plastic bag, the top secured with an elastic band and it almost blew our heads off. It made my eyes and nose run and my lips were singing with the chilli. Quite a blast. Here on the island where we are staying it’s pretty spicy, but still tame compared to the bus station version.
I like to make this when I’m home in Ireland but, as green papayas are hard to come by, I use green mangoes, which are plentiful. I don’t usually bother with the beans even though raw French beans make a reasonable substitution for the snake beans and I usually skip the tomatoes too, as Thai tomatoes are drier than the ones that we can get.
This basically pares it down to green mango, roasted and crushed peanuts and the dressing. It’s delicious. In fact green mangoes are perhaps tastier than the green papaya. Dressed with the spicy sauce, it makes a fast and tasty lunch and will add a spring to your step.
1 big green mango or 2 smaller ones
Brown skin peanuts
2-4 cloves garlic
2-4 birds eye chillies
1 tsp sugar
1 tbs dried shrimp, soaked in warm water (optional)
juice of 1-2 limes – depends how big and juicy they are
2tbs fish sauce – nam pla
Roast the peanuts in a tray in the oven, 180c, until the skins will rub off and the peanuts are light brown. It’s important to roast the peanuts enough as it gives a better flavour. Tip the peanuts into a clean tea towel and rub to remove the skins. Pick the peanuts out – you can take them outside and blow the skins away otherwise just sort through them. Put them into a mortar and lightly crush them, you want fairly big bits.
Chop the chilli and garlic together and mix together with the lime juice, nam pal and sugar. Drain the shrimp and roughly chop then stir into the dressing.
Peel the mango, cut into thin slices then cut into matchsticks – julienne.
Put the mango into a bowl, toss together with the dressing and sprinkle the peanuts on top.
By the time that you read this recipe we will have returned to Ireland sunned and inspired by our travels.
No doubt next month’s recipe will be a warming stew!