Som tam is a traditional Thai salad that comes in various forms. You can find it being served up by local vendors on the hot sticky streets of Bangkok or perhaps in the night markets up in the country side. It can sometimes be made with cucumber, pineapple, green mango and apparently even white guava. Traditionally though, it has a base of shredded green papaya, green beans, some carrot, tomato, nuts and lots of chilli. It can also have dried shrimp and crab that has been pummeled by a mortar and pestle and mixed through (yum for some…).
Green papayas aren’t (or at least weren’t) terribly common around our parts, so the Australianised version of this salad uses carrot instead. The carrot is sweeter and a more full flavoured than the green papaya, but I think it does the trick regardless.
I first had the carrot som tam on a hot summers night about 10 years ago. Judy, a family friend and fabulous cook, whipped it up for us and served it with sticky rice- or glutinous rice- and flamed grilled satay chicken. Sticky rice can be used as a sort of tool to scoop up food and soak up sauce, so were were encourage to eat with our fingers (woot!). As you gnaw at your chicken and scoop up the rice and salad, the lemon pulp is squished and releases the lemon juices that pump up the flavour ten-fold. I’ve made this meal for more fanciful occasions where smashing food about with our fingers is not so acceptable. If this is the case, just juice the lemons and add lemon juice instead.
Thai cooking, like most south-east Asian cooking, has a million ingredients and is done mainly on taste. You must constantly taste your food to see if the ratios are alright and the flavour is going in the right direction. I’ve been making this dressing for a while so I sip away at the dressing the whole way through. BUT in saying that, I understand that this is slightly more difficult when you don’t know what you’re tasting for or for those who are kitchen-phobic. So I’ve included some measurements below. Just remember to dip your finger in now and then and adjust the flavour to what you like. Too salty? Add sugar. Too sugary? Add more lemon. Tastes weird? Add garlic.
2 cloves of garlic
1 birdseye chilli (the hot guy)
1 teaspoon of brown sugar
fish sauce (try and get Thai fish sauce. Rule of thumb is that any brands with a picture of some kind of fish on the label is good).
3 cups of grated carrot
2-3 tomatoes- diced
1 lemon (can use lime)
Roughly chop the chilli and peeled garlic and pop into the mortar and pestal. Smash the crap out of them.
NOTE: If you’re having sticky rice, rinse it a few times and soak it in warm water for a few hours before hand. Or if you’re like me and constantly forget to do this earlier- just do it now for half an hour or so. it’s usually fine.
ANOTHER NOTE: If you don’t have a mortar and pestle you can also just chop up all the dressing ingredients super finely and mix in a bowl or shake about in a jar. The mortar and pestal smash out the flavour but the less aggressively produced dressing (sans smashing) is does the trick too.
Next add the sugar, fish sauce and lemon juice and continue to mix in the mortar and pestal. You can also just mix these guys up in a bowl from here on in but I like to hammer the flavour out as much as possible.
YET ANOTHER NOTE: if you’re going to use the lemon flesh instead of juice, just leave the lemon out of the dressing and add it later on.
Grate the carrot and dice the tomatoes and add them together (if you’re using lemon flesh add it in now too)
Steam the sticky rice by placing soaked rice in a steamer on top of a pan of boiling water. It helps if you dig a little hole in the middle to help the steam do it’s thang.
We had sticky pork instead of satay chicken. We shamelessly bought a marinated tenderloin from the supermarket and cooked it on the griddle. Sticky delicious.
However if you’re set on satay style chicken it’s pretty easy too. Just marinate chicken (thighs, breasts, drumsticks- anything goes) in 1 x tin of coconut milk, 3 x table spoons of fish sauce, 3 x table spoons of soy sauce, 1 x dessert spoon of brown sugar, 2 x squashed cloves of garlic and 2 x teaspoons of curry powder. Pour over the chicken, marinate in the fridge for a few hours and grill it up in a pan, griddle or preferably on the barbecue.
Just add the nuts to the salad (do this at the very end otherwise they’ll go soggy) , mix through the dressing and serve up with rice and meat. Voila!
Congrats on your first blog post Asha! I love this dish. For any purists pointing out that this is a fairly bastardized version of the original – that’s the point. Its delicious, and easy to make. We will be in Thaliand in just over 6 weeks, so we will follow up with another post (or many more) about how this salad is traditionally made 🙂 No doubt we will try our hand at making the traditional version too.