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Sometimes, all you need is Som Tum.

The sourness of the lime juice, the saltiness of the fish sauce, the heat from the chillies and the crunch from unripe, green papaya and long snake beans, this Thai salad is nothing but packed with explosion of flavours and unforgettable textural wonders. Som Tum, in Thai, is a no-cooking refreshing green papaya salad that usually serves as an entree or as a side along with main dishes because of its sourness that opens up the appetite.

Som Tum is absolutely one of my favourite salads of all time. I’ve eaten many versions of this salad in many different countries, whether is served with fermented crab sauce in Laos, or the sweeter version in Cambodia, and the Vietnamese version that comes with pork rinds , each one of them is uniquely different with their own distinctive characteristics that I loved. And it is super easy to make at home. But, you do need a mortar and pestle to really make a good proper Som Tum.

If you do not have a mortar and pestle, I think is time to invest in one now. You can pound, crush, grind, stir, pulverise, all in one ancient food preparing stone tool that even sometimes a food processor cannot replace its functionality. In theory, to make a fine paste by using a food processor, it will just chop and combine, whereas a M&P actually grinds, crushes and pulverises the ingredients to release more of the flavours and natural oils. Especially to prepare this simple Thai green papaya salad, it actually uses the M&P to its full potential, from crushing, stirring to pounding.

Here I have a step-by-step diagram to show you how to prepare a Som Tum.

som tum recipe

Som Tum salad
(serves 4)

1 garlic clove, peeled
2 bird’s eye chillies
1 teaspoon dried shrimp, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes and drained
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon grated palm sugar (jaggery)
2 snake (long) beans, cut into 5 cm (2 inch) lengths
450 g (1 lb) green papaya, peeled and shredded
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
35 g (11/4 oz/1/4 cup) unsalted peanuts, toasted and roughly chopped

1. Pound the garlic and chillies in a mortar and pestle until crushed, then add the dried shrimp and pound again until softened.

2. Add the lime juice, fish sauce and palm sugar, and stir until all the sugar is dissolved.

3. Add the beans, green papaya and tomatoes, and pound gently just to bruise and soften the vegetables.

4. Have a taste and adjust the flavour of the salad according to your liking — there should be a balance of sweet, sour, spicy and a little bit of salty.

5. Finally add the toasted peanuts and mix well.

Let me know if you find this step-by-step on how to make a delicious Som Tum useful, perhaps I will do more in future with other recipes? What recipe would you like to see, learn and cook?