All over Thailand, you’ll see cooks in makeshift sidewalk food carts working huge mortars and pestles, pounding together the ingredients for this spicy, refreshing salad. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, chop and smash the chiles and garlic with the side of a chef’s knife before mixing them with the remaining dressing ingredients. Traditionally, the papaya is cut into julienne threads with a large, sharp knife, but I prefer the safety of a nifty julienne peeler.
4 cups julienne, shredded or grated green papaya or green mango
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tbsp unsalted roasted peanuts, chopped
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
Into a medium heat-proof bowl, pour 2 cups boiling water over beans. Let sit for 30 seconds; drain and refresh with cold water. Drain and set aside.
Place chile pepper, sugar and garlic in a large mortar and pestle and pound until the mixture is a fine paste, or smash it with the side of a chef’s knife. Add lime juice and fish sauce and stir to dissolve sugar. Pour into a small bowl.
Add 1 cup papaya to the mortar and pound with the pestle until the fruit is a little bruised and limp, about 20 seconds. Transfer papaya to a large bowl and toss with the dressing and remaining ingredients. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, vigorously mix the papaya and dressing together with your hands, squeezing gently to bruise the fruit slightly. (MAKE AHEAD: This salad can be made up to 2 hours in advance and refrigerated until ready to serve.)
Take a tip from Thai street vendors and have all your ingredients lined up next to the stove so you can work quickly and continue to move the ingredients around in the wok nonstop. Unsalted peanuts would make a crunchy topper to this dish for added texture.
I first had this mildly spicy curry-smeared fish in the northern capital of Chiang Mai steamed in ingeniously folded banana leaf packets that also served as a takeaway container. The banana leaf is 100% natural and compostable and infuses the fish with a subtle herby flavor. Look for banana leaf at Asian and Latino markets in the freezer section, or wrap the fish in Swiss chard leaves instead.
Fish cakes in Thailand are often augmented with tapioca flour to make them sturdier; I opt for healthy, protein-rich quinoa instead. These make a great appetizer or can be served as a main course with noodles or rice. When preparing your quinoa for this recipe, use a ratio of 1 cup quinoa to 12/3 cups water – this ensures your fish cakes don’t get soggy. Do try the dipping sauce – just a little gives the fish cakes a sweet-tangy bite.
In northern parts of the country, vegetable gardens are still emerging from winter, and in warmer parts of North America, it’s still a couple months before many warm-season crops begin to produce. So what's a locavore to do?
Superfruit powers: Sure, papayas look exotic, but don’t let that deter you from picking up these nutritional powerhouses in the market. A little more than 1 cup of fresh papaya packs more than 300% of your daily need for vitamin C, which does wonders for your immune system. At 51/2 grams per serving, papayas are loaded with fiber and are also an excellent source of folate and beta-carotene, which aids in the formation of DNA and RNA and strengthens eye and reproductive health, respectively.