By Ozoz Sokoh
I love the very idea of combining fruit and savoury flavours, especially in the way Asian cuisine knows how.
I’ve watched Luke Nguyen cook with ingredients that are tropical and easy to find in Nigeria. But cook with them in a way so different, so foreign and appealing in that way ‘exotic’ cuisine is.
This Papaya salad has been a while in the making. Purely because I’ve been too lazy to get a long stick and knock one off my neighbors pawpaw tree. Eventually, I got the one used here, not from their tree but purchased.
We eat lots of Pawpaw, as we call it in Nigeria. We eat it in a variety of ways – in the North/middle belt of Nigeria, it is sliced into thin strips, dried a bit and added to ‘soups’ for texture. Typically, we eat it ripe, or just ripe. When the flesh is firm to soft, and when its musky scents are at a peak, and it has flesh the colour of honeydew melon. When its ripe, its black seeds glisten and nestle in the boat that forms its inner shape.
But a young pawpaw, or papaya as my kids think the unripe fruit is called is different. It has none of that fragrance, or the hue of its ripened compatriot. No, it is hard and barely green. Its flesh can be grated like a carrot, easily and its taste is somewhat ‘bland’.
The texture though when incorporated in the sort of salads Asians are famous for is fabulous – sweet and salty from (palm) sugar, spicy from the ever-welcome chili pepper and chock full of umami from the fish sauce. I love the sour fragrance of the lime, and the incredibly nuttiness of just-roasted peanuts, crushed and combined in this salad.
This is a salad that satisfies every part of one’s a palate and refreshing addition to the weeknight rotation. At least till mangoes come out in full force!
I made a huge quantity of the salad. Some I stuffed into Vietnamese rice rolls, serving the rest on the side.
We all loved it – the absolute best part of the dish was the peanuts. They elevated it beyond the ‘here and now’. So much so that I didn’t remember I wanted to add lots of mint and cilantro.
It was that good.
A light, refreshing salad which would make a great accompaniment to rice and meat dishes. Use like a chutney, or eat as a salad.
Som Tam (Thai); Goi Du Du (Vietnam)
Note: You could also substitute unripe, green mangoes, daikon (Mooli or white radish) and even some combination of bean sprouts and bambo shoots with other veggies. Carrots may be a great choice as well.
The Vietnamese and Thai versions usually include (steamed/blanched) green beans but my fridge was without them….so I proceeded to use what I had.
Ingredients1/2 a small pawpaw (weighed 700g), about 3 packed cups 2 teaspoons palm sugar 2 teaspoons white sugar Juice of 3- 4 limes 1 clove garlic 2 cherry tomatoes (that was all I had) Chilli sauce: 2 green chilies, 2 dried red chilies, 1 t mixed peppercorns crushed and fried in 2 tablespoons vegetable (flavourless) oil 1/3 cup peanuts, roasted in a dry pan over medium heat. Fish sauce, to taste Salt, to taste Preparation Prepare the Pawpaw: Using a vegetable peeler, take the dark green flesh off the fruit, to reveal the light, green flesh you seek. Grate using a coarse grater or using a chef’s knife as Rachel from Rachel cooks Thai does.
Make the ‘dressing’: Combine the sugars and the lime juice, till the sugar is dissolved. I combined both types of sugar because I didn’t like the low level of sweetness it brought to the dish. I wanted the sweetness to have an ‘edge’, hence the white sugar.
Make the ‘Chili oil’: Be sure to open doors and windows, (in case you -over-fry- the peppers) or turn on your extractor. Place a wok or skillet over high heat. When it is hot, add the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Toss in the dried chiles, jalapeño, and peppercorns and stir-fry for 30 seconds – 1 minute till you smell the fragrance of the peppers. Watch this stage for it could quickly transition to the fragrance of burnt peppers. Sprinkle on the salt and mix well. Set aside.
Making the Salad: In a medium-sized mortar, and using a pestle, begin the pounding. I began by pounding the garlic, adding the tomatoes and then the grated papaya.
I added the peanuts, pounded some more and tossed the mixture in the lime-sugar dressing, add the chili oil, to taste.
A few splashes of fish sauce and dinner was served.
How wonderful to be able to benefit from the joys of Thai, Vietnamese and other Asian cuisines, because we have the same ingredients, and use them in different ways.
What a wonder.
And a wonderful world.
About the author: Ozoz Sokoh is Nigerian-born, Liverpool-schooled (in part) and now living and working in Nigeria. For more information and posts visit: http://www.kitchenbutterfly.com