Wednesday, October 10, 2012

green papaya salad with shrimp

green papaya salad
i'm not sure when or how it started,
but larry and i never go out for thai,
without ordering a green papaya salad.

have you had one?
they're everything i love:
and spicy.
there are peanuts.
tomatoes and
green beans, too.
if you're lucky,
tiny flecks of fried shallots
on top.

it's my touch point for a new
thai restaurant.
just like some people order
guacamole in a new mexican restaurant
or always check out the omelets when
visiting a breakfast place for the first time,
i use green papaya salad to help me
decide if i'll be back
once the meal is over.

i want it to be spicy.
bright with fish sauce and lime.
studded with peanuts to help
add texture and break up the spiciness.
and the tomatoes? i don't want them
overly smashed, overly jostled.
i want it to have that indescribable something
that i just can't put my finger on.

so, i was always little afraid to make one at home.
if i am always hoping for that nameless thing,
how in the world was i going to figure out
how to recreate it?

ok, that's not entirely truthful.
i've always wanted to make one,
but finding green papaya is not so easy.
i searched my beloved asian markets many
times, until finally deciding that it wasn't meant
to be and that i would have to settle for this
salad as a restaurant-only treat.

and then one day,
a few weeks ago, my mother
called to tell me about a new asian market
that she was visiting after work. she asked if
i wanted anything. i asked for a green papaya,
but i wasn't hopeful.

and then, lo and behold.
green papaya
i'll be honest with you:
i didn't think it was big enough.
i had imagined the salad topped with shrimp,
as a main course, but after seeing the smallish
fruit, i asked larry to pick up a green apple to
supplement. and, then, i started shredding this
thing with my spiked peeler (not an official name)
and felt foolish as the shreds of green papaya
started stacking up in the bowl.
we had more than enough.
shredded green papaya
i added things:
dried shrimp
mis en place
dried shrimp
fish sauce
2 serrano peppers
(sadly, no scallions or
cilantro due to a small miscommunication
between larry and i)
green beans and

i stirred it all around
and gave it a taste.
it sort of tasted like green papaya salad.
i chopped up more dried shrimp,
added more fish sauce,
more lime,
chopped more garlic and tossed in
a chopped shallot.
a third serrano went in.
i let the whole thing sit for ten minutes
and tasted it again. i think i drizzled in
more fish sauce. it was good. it really was.
but was i jumping out of my seat excited?
would i make it again? yes.
and that? that's more than i can say for
several thai restaurants we've visited.
so, that's something.
green papaya salad with shrimp
green papaya salad with shrimp
adapted from molly wizenberg
i often find that i add more garlic, more fish sauce, more, more, more of everything with flavor than a recipe calls for. i don't know what it says about me. regardless. when tasting this salad for the first time, i wished three things: that i had let the mixture marinate for a bit before serving, that i chopped extra dried shrimp and garlic from the beginning and that my serrano had typical serrano-level spice. below, i've written the recipe with my changes and the way we made it, but keep in mind that the original had cilantro and scallions.

again, this was not exactly the original. i learned through this experience that a) larry did not know that there was a difference between cherry tomatoes and grape tomatoes and b) larry cleans the fridge out much more than i realized. hence, this recipe was prepared without cilantro or scallions. we also used cashews instead of peanuts, because i love cashews and that was what was in the house.

a couple more things: i brought leftovers for lunch and they were great, so don't be afraid to let this sit overnight. the original recipe was six appetizer servings, but for us, it was three decent size main meals.

3 limes (about 6 tablespoons fresh lime juice)
2 tablespoons packed golden brown sugar
1/4 cup fish sauce
3 tablespoons dried shrimp, chopped
1 shallot, peeled, halved and finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
15 green beans, trimmed
1 green papaya (1 1/2-1 3/4 pounds), peeled, halved and seeded
10 large cherry tomatoes, halved
1-3 serrano peppers with seeds or 1 fresh red thai chile pepper, thinly sliced
15 large shrimp (about 20 count)
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped salted cashews

bring medium saucepan of salted water to a boil.

in small bowl, whisk together lime juice, brown sugar, fish sauce, shrimp, garlic and shallot. taste and adjust flavor, if desired. set aside.

add green beans to boiling water; cook 2-3 minutes, or until just crisp-tender. drain; rinse under cold water to stop cooking. cut into 2-inch pieces.

using julienne peeler or box grater, shred papaya. measure 6 cups papaya. place papaya in large bowl. add green beans, tomatoes and chile pepper. top with dressing; toss to combine. let sit. 

when ready to serve, divide papaya salad among serving plates. 

season shrimp with hot and pepper. heat grill pan or saute pan over medium-high heat. grill shrimp 4 minutes, or until just firm and cooked through, turning once midway through. top salads with shrimp. sprinkle with cashews.

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