BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked

Thai It, You’ll Like It

23 Comments

Despite growing up so close to the hustle and bustle of New York City, I spent the majority of my formative years in the safety of small towns. These modest, insular neighborhoods are the perfect place to foster a care-free childhood, complete with tight-knit communities, safe neighborhoods, and sleepy streets that go quiet at 9 PM, even on a Saturday. Many cherished memories were made around the babbling brook a short walk from my home, collecting the Queen Anne’s lace that grew in abundance on either side of the stream. Although I’d consider myself more of a city slicker these days, I wouldn’t change those early years for the world. There’s no better place to develop a sense of identity, since there are fewer distractions or outside forces telling you what to be. What small towns are not so great for is cultivating a finely tuned palate. For the first dozen years of my life, I can easily count the number of world cuisines that had passed my lips on just one hand. Oh, but wait, do hot dogs count as a particular national specialty of any sort? Shamefully, my final count could end up being far less.

Thai food was entirely foreign to me, in every sense, pretty much right up until the prior year. It’s not the most rare or exotic culinary find, as globalism has brought so many worldly edibles closer to home than ever, but solid examples of these flavors had eluded me in sleepy coastal Connecticut. Only when I went to Hawaii did I find the immersive experience that I was craving. The landscape is ripe with stellar, dare I say, authentic offerings from just about every part of the world, with particularly strong offerings from Asian countries. It was there that I found Opal Thai, and my hunger for the cuisine has never been greater.

Nothing that I could fabricate at home would reach anywhere near those gustatory heights, but hunger drives one to gamble a bit in the kitchen. Som Tum, otherwise known as green papaya salad, is easily my favorite way to begin a meal. Served chilled, the tender yet crisp strands of unripe papaya are cooling, yet still popping with bursts of heat from abundant flecks of chili peppers. Brightly acidic, tangy, and slightly salty, with just a touch of sweetness to take the edge off, every component must be in perfect balance to achieve a successful, harmonious dish. The most challenging part of the composition is preparing vegan fish sauce, but once you make up a single batch of the funky stuff, it will last in your fridge for ages, facilitating almost instant salad satisfaction.

Of course, the key ingredient, green papaya, eluded me in my limited hometown grocery stores, which is why I took a page from the ever-popular zucchini noodles that proliferate as summer brings an abundance of the green squashes. They don’t stay crisp as long as papaya, so just make sure you leave them undressed until the minute you’re ready to serve. It may not be the genuine article, but it transports me to a delicious new world of flavor with every single bite.

Thai-Style Zucchini Ribbon Salad (Based on Som Tum)

1/4 Cup Lime Juice
2 Tablespoons Coconut Sugar, or Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Tablespoons Vegan Fish Sauce
1 Teaspoon Soy Sauce
1 Clove Garlic, Minced
3 – 4 Ounces (A Big Handful) Skinny Green Beans, Lightly Blanched
2 Medium Zucchini, Spiralized or Julienned
1/2 Cup Halved Grape or Cherry Tomatoes
1/2 – 1 Red Thai Chile, Thinly Sliced
Handful Skinny Chives or Scallions, Thinly Sliced
2 Tablespoons Roasted and Salted Peanuts, Coarsely Chopped

This dish comes together very quickly, so prep all of your vegetables first and you’ll zip right through the rest of the preparation. For the dressing, whisk together the lime juice, coconut sugar, vegan fish sauce, soy sauce, and garlic. It will seem like a lot of liquid, but don’t worry, that’s exactly what you want! This isn’t like a traditional salad dressing; it should soak into the noodles a bit, and you will have a bit of a pool at the bottom when it’s in proper proportion.

In a medium bowl, place the green beans, zucchini ribbons, and tomatoes. Pour the dressing on top and toss to coat. Add in the chili, just a little bit at a time, until it’s spicy enough for your personal tastes. Give it one more good toss to mix everything around and evenly distribute the ingredients before transferring everything to a serving dish. Top with a generous handful of sliced chives and chopped peanuts.

Don’t waste time chit-chatting; Eat immediately!

Makes 2 – 4 Servings

Printable Recipe

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Author: Hannah (BitterSweet)

Author of My Sweet Vegan, Vegan Desserts, Vegan a la Mode, and Easy as Vegan Pie.

23 thoughts on “Thai It, You’ll Like It

  1. Sounds delicious, Hannah, although I was hoping for noodles, being a pasta fiend. :-) I’m sure it could be adapted for noodles, too. Hope all’s well with you!

    janet

  2. will thai tonight thank you for all you do it is very inspiring and fun xoxoxoxooxoxox nancy

  3. This is a perfect balance between freshness and seasoning with crunchy peanuts to add flavour and texture. We Aussies have been immersed in Asian cuisine because of our close proximity and Thai is one of our favourite ways to eat. Love this fresh light salad and when summer rocks up it is going to be right up there with some of my regular summer classics. It will be perfect for helping me munch through my prospective zucchini harvest ;)

  4. Mmm,looks so yummy!

  5. mmmm Thai is one of my favourite cuisines! The small town I grew up in actually had a ton of ethnic restaurants but until my university years pizza and Chinese were as “ethnic” as I got! Thank goodness I branched out!

  6. I always love the Thai flavours and in salads , they have such a oomph factor. It’s so great that you took on making your version of the Som Tum even though you couldn’t get green papaya. You definitely captured its spirit nonetheless.

    I’m sure it is a very refreshing and delicious salad to have!
    By the way, can you get mangoes in your hometown? You can use the unripe, green ones for this salad. It would be very lovely too. one of my favourites!

    • Ah yes, the mango substitute is such a great idea! I love mangoes too and have access to a number of different varieties when they’re in season, but of course, whenever I want to find an unripe one, there are none to be found. It’s such a cruel irony since they always arrive at the store hard as rock in the first place.

  7. Ha! Love the title of this blog. Papaya salad is one of my favorite Thai dishes. I love the little string beans and the spiciness with the crunch of peanuts. Yum! I’m wondering how long will the zucchini hold up to the acid from the dressing though? Green Papaya is a lot more sturdy and can last up to 3-4 days in the fridge before becoming limp and soggy.

    • Ah yes, I’m afraid to say that my zucchini version doesn’t have the same longevity as the traditional, papaya-based rendition. It should really be served right away after being dressed; It’s just not as good after it sits for even 30 minutes.

      • Ok. I will definitely give this recipe a try Hanna. I’m sure it won’t last longet than 30 minutes away because it’s so delicious!

  8. Thai is absolutely the best cuisine, so I am a big fan of this post :D
    Your photos are mouthwatering!

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

  9. The title cracks me up! I love Thai food and I always order papaya salad whenever I go to Thai restaurants. Seems like a lot of effort to make but maybe something to try for a dinner party :)

  10. We made this for dinner and it’s great.

  11. Extra pun points for the title today! And yes, I love Som Tum with green papaya, but I’ve never been able to make it at home, as I’ve never been able to find said papaya in my corner of London. Thankfully, I now have an alternative I can make!

  12. Looks delicious, Hannah! I love how you use julienned zucchini for the noodles! I love Som Tam, in northern Thailand, they come across very smelly and spicy, which I love about. I also made Som Tam salad on the blog earlier this month – have you tried the vegan fish sauce I made? It’s made with just few ingredients! ❤

  13. Your recipe, enthusiasm, and writing always inspire me, Hannah. Thank you for another wonderful post.

  14. Better late than never! Thai food is just magic. I love this take on a fantastic salad with easier to find ingredients !

  15. Looks so delicious ! Thanks :)

  16. I loved your cool title, Ooh yeah! xx A lovely tasty dish too! It sings to me! x

  17. i have not experimented with thai cuisine a lot yet. i am hoping it might change this year. the salad looks fabulous. i have to try that fish sauce

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