Papaya trees grow from a seed to a fruit-bearing 20 foot tree in about eighteen months. And they fruit the way rabbits breed. In a bunch. They are not one of my favourite fruit because they have a slight bitter undertone. But young green papaya when made into a Thai salad transforms into something quite, quite wonderful. Utterly refreshing.
My first encounter of a Thai papaya salad was at the Thai ambassador's cocktail party many years ago. In an effort to promote their cuisine they had booths set up to demonstrate the makings of various scrumptious Thai dishes. Surprisingly amoung all other mouth-watering dishes the one dish that I fell in love with was the Thai papaya salad.
I think it was the combination and perfect balance of fresh fruit, toasted dried shrimps, hot chillies, salty fish sauce, tart lime juice and crunchy peanuts that won me over.
With the Thai papaya salad comes the above, right, which, I believe, is a Thai invention. The papaya/fruit shredder. It looks like an ordinary fruit or vegetable peeler the only difference being that the blade is grooved intermittently across.
I saw this device on Luke Nguyen's show and have been scavenging the shops ever since. I had asked the Thai girl at the organic shop which I frequent where to get one. She looked at me incredulously and said ...anywhere. Obviously I had not been anywhere. Well finally it wasn't anywhere that I found this pretty device but at Vivahome along Jalan Loke Yew....a large spanking new mall that has shops selling nothing else but kitchen things and home furnishings. From end to end and top to bottom. Finally mother and I had landed in heaven.
The recipe ~
I bought a very firm, dark green, young papaya, the inside a light orange and firm, the shredding of which was bliss.
Thai Papaya Salad ~
2 - 2 1/2 cups of shredded young papaya
Juice of 2 limes
1/4 cup palm sugar , grated
1 T water
1 red chilli, chopped finely or 2 bird chillies crushed
1 T fish sauce
2 T dried shrimps, toasted or lightly fried in a little oil
a few sprigs of coriander leaves with stems, chopped finely
Put the shredded papaya into a large bowl. throw in the chopped chilli and coriander.
Mix the palm sugar and water in a small pot and heat until sugar dissolves. Keep aside and allow to cool.
Meanwhile pound dried shrimps in a pestle and mortar and then add peanuts and pound gently to just crush peanuts. Do not pound to a paste.The mixture should be crumbly and the nuts in small chunks.
Mix the cooled syrup with the lime juice and fish sauce in another bowl and pour this dressing over the shredded papaya mixture. Add the pounded shrimps and peanuts and mix with your fingers or two spoons gently to coat the fruit evenly with the dressing. Add fish sauce or extra lime juice to balance the flavours.
Sprinkle more crushed peanuts over the top.
Serve cold or at room temperature as a side dish.
Note : A combination of shredded cucumber and papaya is good too.