Thai Som Tam salad

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If, like me, you have spent the entirety of December putting all sorts of things into your mouth like lumps of marzipan and entire Stiltons, you’ll probably need a bit of salad by now. My tastebuds received a hammering over the festive period and have gone into hibernation due to lording it up with the Christmas goodies. I do the same thing every year, starting off the countdown to Xmas slowly – i.e just having a couple of mince pies here and there rather than seven – and then predictably lapse into an undignified eating frenzy, and by the end of it all find it extraordinary that eating an entire box of Celebrations by oneself is considered unusual. And Panetonne – that’s just like festive white bread sprinkled with a bit of fruit, right? Give me four slices: BOSH.

All of this festive carry-on has made me feel sluggish and braindead. I know it’s a cliche, but I do like to try to eat a few more fruits and vegetables in January to try and recover. If you want to shock your palate back into life, I suggest this amazing Thai salad, the classic Som Tam. It’s fiery, sweet, sour, tangy and has a real oomph to it with dried shrimp, fish sauce and lime juice. It’s not a sociable salad as it has a lot of garlic in it – so eat it with someone you love, as your breath will have a Darth-Vader-like intensity!

This recipe is my husband’s concoction – he browsed all his Thai cookbooks and came up with his preferred slant on the dish. It’s frigging amazing. You may well mock when you hear we spent SEVEN QUID on a medium sized green papaya from an Asian grocers in Brixton, but seeing as they have to be air freighted and are quite hard to track down, it’s a bit of an occasional treat. A much cheaper alternative, which is easier to track down, would be to use something like kohlrabi – it’s crisp and bland and will absorb all the heady flavours of the dressing.

Any Thai person worth their salt would have about 70 chillies in this and would probably mock this interpretation. But I will never be as hard as the Thais when it comes to eating fiery food – the amount of chilli they put in everything nearly made my head swell up with anaphylactic shock when I visited Bangkok!

Serves 2 – great for lunch on its own, or for dinner as a side dish alongside grilled fish or meat.

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You will need:

A large pestle and mortar for crushing everything up
3 cloves garlic
2 fresh birdsye chillies
1 – 2 tbsps dried shrimps (from all good Asian supermarkets)
1 tbsp chopped unsalted peanuts
5 green beans chopped into 1cm lengths
4 halved cherry tomatoes
1 slice lime
2 cups shredded green papaya or kohlrabi
1 small lump of tamarind paste to make 1 tbsp tamarind water
1 tbsp palm sugar (or use regular sugar)
2 tbsps lime juice
2 tbsps fish sauce

First make some tamarind water – put a small lump of tamarind paste in a few tablespoons of water, bring to the boil and mash up with a spoon to extract the large seeds. This will make a thin brown liquid from which you discard the seeds. Roast your peanuts a little over a medium heat in a frying pan to bring out the best flavour.

Take the garlic cloves and birdseye chillies and mash them together into a paste in the pestle and mortar. Add the dried shrimps, then the peanuts. Mash them to a paste. Add the green beans, cherry tomatoes and slice of lime and bruise them a little, before adding the shredded papaya and bruising everything together a little more. This is to ensure the flavours really merge.

Add the dressing – fish sauce, lime juice, 1 tbsp tamarind water and palm sugar. Use a spoon to toss everything together, then bruise it all a bit more (without crushing) to ensure the flavours really punch through into the shredded papaya.

Done! Your mouth will be on fire, so feel free to tone down the chillies when you make this. Happy New Year!

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