There are many versions of this spicy north-eastern Thai vegetable salad that is traditionally made, crushed and dressed in a wooden pestle and mortar. Green papaya salad is always eaten with rice: steamed sticky rice or occasionally jasmine rice dressed with coconut cream and sugar. A stall selling grilled pork or sweet pork can usually be found nearby--it is the perfect companion.
Using a pestle and mortar, pound the garlic with the salt then add the peanuts and dried prawns and pound to a coarse paste. Add the lime (if using), bruising it with the pestle, then add the cherry tomatoes and beans to the mortar and carefully work everything together. Next add the bird’s eye chiles, barely crushing them. The more they are pounded, the hotter the dish--and how hot you want it is up to you. Add them earlier if you’re after revenge.
Finally, add the green papaya and lightly bruise with the pestle, while turning and tossing the mixture with a large spoon held in your other hand. Season the salad with palm sugar, fish sauce, lime juice and tamarind water. It should taste sweet, sour, hot and salty.
Place about 1 cup of steamed rice on each plate. Spoon over the green papaya salad and eat with fresh raw vegetables, such as cabbage, green beans and betel leaves.
Photo: Earl Carter © 2009
"Reprinted with permission from Thai Street Food: Authentic Recipes, Vibrant Traditions by David Thompson, copyright © 2009. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc."