Papaya Salad & thoughts on local healthy dishes

When you think about Thai food, what comes to mind? Tom yum? Green curry? Pad Thai?

I am by no means a Thai food expert, but one healthy, delicious dish is green papaya salad. One possible obstacle for Malaysians to improve our diets is that healthy food is portrayed to be ‘Western’ and ‘bougie’ in media – quinoa, kale, chia seeds…

We need to look around ourselves and identify good food in our own cultures to both satiate our palates and nourish our bodies. These also tend to be dishes made from local ingredients, so they are cheaper and fresher.

Anyways, green papaya is just unripened papaya. Imagine my surprise when I found out the inside of green papaya could be orange! Apparently, as long as it is still crunchy and not super sweet it would work in this dish.

‘Green’ papaya

For this dish, I substituted the fish sauce for a concoction of soy sauce, tamarind paste, palm sugar and lime. The soy sauce dominated the dressing, but the subtle tartness gives it a good twist. This recipe is heavily inspired by Vegan Miam & Thai Table

The making of papaya salad is simple. Just toss everything into the mortar and pound!

Papaya salad served in a traditional mortar



4 garlic cloves
1 chilli padi
4 long/snake beans, chopped into 1-inch sticks
1 medium-sized unripened papaya, julienned (approx. 2 cups)
6 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tbsp Thai basil & 2 tbsp of cilantro (optional)

Dressing adapted from Vegan Miam

1/2 tbsp tamarind concentrate + 1 tbsp warm water
Lime juice from 3 limes
Less than 1/4 cup soy sauce (modification from the original recipe, amount not finalised but I suggest tasting as you add it to the mixture)
3 tbsp palm sugar melted with 1 tbsp warm water

To make the dressing:

Melt the sugar & mix the tamarind concentrate with water in separate bowls before mixing everything together. My sister did the opposite and the ingredients did not mix well. I had to put the mixture on the stove for a bit to save the dressing…

Mix everything together and sieve.

For the salad:

  1. Crush garlic and chilli into paste form.
  2. Throw in the green beans, julienned papaya and cherry tomatoes in this sequence, adding the next ingredient when you feel that the vegetables have absorbed the flavours of garlic and chilli (a couple mins tops)
  3. Pour half of the dressing in, and pound for an extra minute or two. My mortar was too small so I transferred some out into a huge salad bowl as I mix it. Toss evenly.
    NOTE: you could use up all the dressing here, but everyone has a different preference for how salty they want the salad to be. This is why I leave half out so they could add it to their liking.
  4. Add in the Thai basil and cilantro. Sprinkle some roasted peanuts to complete the dish.

Spicy, sweet, sour all in one dish – my taste buds were surprised by every bite!

Perfect for hot hot hot weather in Malaysia

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