Try this easy plant based and vegan version of this tasty southeast Asian staple!
Growing up in the 80’s, there seemed to just be chinese restaurants. Chop suey joints to be exact. Sushi was relatively obscure. Only people like Molly Ringwald from the movie ‘Breakfast Club’ ever had sushi. There just weren’t Thai restaurants around much. There were people from Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam working in Chinese restaurants, but not thier own. As a teenager, my best friends mother, originally from north Thailand, worked at the golden dragon, a Japanese steak house. A place my parents would take me growing up. But, when i’d go to visit my friend, the food in thier kitchen was very different. I didnt really understand what was going on with it, except it was very spicy, aromatic and intruiging.
Nowadays, Chinese restaurants are kind of passe, and Thai food, has almost been eclipsed by foodies looking for Burmese and Laotian menus. But, what an amazing cuisine Thailand offers! kefir lime leaves, coconut milk curries, tasty tom yum. At a new Thai restaurant, I usually first order a pad thai or a panang curry to gauge the the differences of these standard dishes. If the pad thai is handled well, rest assured everything else will be too.
I’m embarrassed to say, that even though Thai food has been a background most of my life, I only had a papaya salad for the first time about a year ago. I can’t believe what i’ve missed. It has now become one of my favorites, and often my new test dish at a new restaurant.
Healthy green papaya!
Green papayas are a super healthy, surprisingly low carb fruit. There’s something about the texture of the under ripened julienned papaya that I really like. It’s kind of a special mix of chewy and crunchy. I find a simple meal of it very satisfying and filling.
Typically, the salad consists of papaya, tomato and Chinese long beans with crushed peanuts. Traditionally it is served with a small bowl of doctored up fish sauce, to pour over everything once your ready to eat.
The recipe I offer here is a simple plant-based and vegan version. For extra protien, use more peanuts or cashews.
Here’s what i start out with:
- A small firm green papaya, usually from the Asian market.
- Chinese long beans
- Tomato, small varieties like grape or cherry preferred, but Roma or Campari types are fine.
- Peanuts or Cashews. whichever you prefer. I like roasted / no salt. keep in mind salt content if you use salted.
- Lime wedges
- Cilantro garnish
- Mae ploy sweet chili sauce
- Clear rice vinegar
preparing and making papaya salad
- Papayas show up in the market in random sizes, and wanting to limit food waste, i first peel the green skin off the papaya, and julienne the entire fruit down to the seed cavity. Next, i place it all in an appropriate sized container, covered in the fridge to keep it cool. This way, I don’t end up with a saran wrapped half papaya, surprising me later.
- Depending upon the type of tomato you prefer to use, i’ll wash and chop up Roma and Compari types into wedges. Cherry types I’d cut in half, and grape types are kept whole or halved. I like tomatoes and the acidity they bring to the dish, so i generally go up to 1/3 the volume of the papaya. But, about 1/4 is probably reasonable for most people.
- Use a mortar and pestle to crush up your peanuts or cashews. I use about 1/4 cup per serving. Set aside in a small bowl. You can always add more if you want a little more protein, or just want to go nuts.
- Take a bundle of Chinese long beans and eyeball about a 1/4 to 1/5th the volume of papaya you’ll be using. Cut that amount off, and then, cut into pieces about an inch or inch and a half. Place in a mortar and pestle and bruise up the raw beans a little and set aside.
- Dressing / Sauce: In place of the usual fish sauce based dressing, I make one that consists of sweet chili sauce, rice vinegar, and a tiny touch of soy sauce: about 2 tablespoons of sweet chili sauce to 1 teaspoon of rice vinegar, and a half teaspoon of soy sauce. Salt and sugar: read the next section to determine if extra salt and sugar should be used.
things to consider while preparing
This salad is known for balancing sweet, salty, umami (fish sauce), sour (lime and rice vinegar) and savory (peanuts/cashews). If you have pre-salted peanuts/cashews, you may not want to add any additional salt to the dressing. As for sugar, the sweet chili sauce provides a fair amount. If you prefer food that’s very sweet, you can add a little raw Cane sugar to the dressing in addition to the sweet chili sauce. The soy sauce will provide saltiness as well as a little umami in place of the traditionally used fish sauce. Other tasty options include adding minced garlic and chili pepper flakes. For extra zing, substitute tamarind for the rice vinegar.
Putting it all together
- Pull out the julienned papaya from the fridge, and place at least a handful in each salad bowl you intend to use.
- Add the Chinese long beans, about 1/5 to 1/4 in volume compared to the amount of papaya used.
- Mix up an amount of the dressing/sauce per portion. and set in Ramekins or tiny bowls. One per serving of salad.
- mix the beans and papaya together until evenly distributed.
- Place a pile of the tomatoes, another pile of the peanut/cashews on top.
- garnish with a few cilantro leaves and a couple lime wedges.
- serve with the dressing/sauce on the side.
Basically, right before enjoying, squeeze the lime wedges and pour the dressing on top, and mix it all up! Any leftover ingredients go into the container with any unused papaya, to be used next time!