Inspired by a fantastic som tam I ate a few weeks ago, I thought I'd have a go at making my own Thai style salad. I've cooked plenty of Thai curries and stir-fries, but have never tried to do a salad. I think the main thing putting me off was that the key ingredient in a classic som tam is shredded green (i.e. very unripe) papaya, not an ingredient readily available in these parts.
Reading the som tam recipe on this blog encouraged me further, as I learned that som tam means 'sour pound' in Thai, so the dish is essentially something sour, made by pounding the ingredients together. What exactly you put in it is a moveable feast.
The essence of the dish is in the balance of flavours at the heart of so many great Thai dishes. Sweet, sour, salty and hot all need to be in perfect harmony. The vegetables bring textural contrast. I thought that shredded raw courgette and cucumber would work, and it turned out pretty well. The aforementioned balance of flavours from the sugar, lime, fish sauce and chillies, crunchy refreshing veggies, bouncy prawns, pungent garlic and fragrant herbs. An assault on the senses in the very best way. Probably completely inauthentic but very tasty nonetheless.
Here's what you'll need (enough for 2 as a main, 4 as a side or starter)
For the salad:
200g large prawns
2 large courgettes
half a cucumber
4 spring onions
3 large-ish tomatoes
For the dressing:
Thai fish sauce (loads)
large thumb sized piece of ginger
2 fat cloves garlic
3-4 small hot chillies (birds eye or bullet)
palm sugar (about 1 tbsp)
What to do:
1. Roughly chop the garlic, ginger and chillies (leave the seeds in, you want it hot).
2. Pound the chopped garlic, ginger and chillies in a pestle and mortar with the rest of the dressing ingredients. This isn't an exact science, you'll need to taste as you go to get the sweet/sour/salty/hot balance right. For starters I'd suggest 3 chillies, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 tbsp palm sugar, juice of 1 lime, a thumb-sized chunk of ginger and 2 tbsps fish sauce. You can then add more lime, sugar, fish sauce or chilli as you see fit.
3. When you've pounded your dressing into a delicious fiery sludgy mess set it to one side to let the flavours marry. Chop the courgettes and cucumber into long, thin shreds. Finely chop the spring onions and roughly chop the tomatoes.
4. Throw the courgettes, cucumber, spring onions and tomatoes into a big bowl and add the prawns. Add the dressing to the bowl and give the whole lot a good mix. Be quite rough, bashing it about a bit so that the vegetables absorb some of the dressing.
5. Finely chop the mint and coriander and add them to the bowl. I used about half of a small bunch of coriander and 10-12 mint leaves, but as with the dressing this is really up to your taste.
6. Give the salad another good mix, check the flavour balance, adjust again if necessary then serve immediately.