Green papayaServed with a side of sticky rice, Green Papaya Salad is a mainstay of Thailand’s marketplace of food vendors. Green papaya salad, known as som tam, is popular in most areas of Thailand. Green papaya, like jicama, is a neutral base that absorbs whatever you add to it. The combination of the dressing being slightly tart, salty, sweet, garlicky, and very spicey elevates green papaya into a beautifully unique and flavor-filled dish that will make a great impression. And although it is traditionally made with chicken or shrimp, I’ve tweaked this recipe to be vegan-friendly.  Easy to make, low-calorie, and because it’s incredibly high in fiber, it is the ideal vehicle to transport all those wonderful bioavailable nutrients for optimal absorption.

Trad salad

Traditional ingredients and method for preparing green papaya salad.

There are many ways to make green papaya salad, with varying degrees of hotness, sourness, and sweetness. The hottest salads are probably made in northeastern Thailand and Laos. Traditionally this salad is made by bruising Julienne green papaya with garlic and very hot peppers in a large clay mortar with a wooden pestle. Seasonings of lime juice, fish sauce, and other flavorings are added. I’ve added tri-colored slaw and romaine to fortify the nutritional content, as well as replacing the shrimp paste and fish sauce with soy and spicy oyster/black bean sauces. I’ve added a condiment—Nam jim rod dedt (chili vinegar with garlic)— that provides the chili, ginger, garlic flavor that can be added to the dressing based on personal heat tolerance.

Recipe notes: Dressing and condiments can be made ahead and refrigerated. Yields 4-serving. Active prep-time for dressing and condiment: 20-minutes. Salad: 15-minutes. Total pre-time: 35-minutes  Difficulty level: Easy

grated papayaIngredients:

  • 2-cups shredded green papaya ( can be purchased prepackaged in most Asian markets, or you can grate your own using a mandolin. See inset)
  • 1/4-cup raw cashews
  • 1-2 cups mung bean sprouts
  • 2/3-cup long green beans, cut diagonally
  • 1-cup pear tomatoes sliced in half
  • 1 1/2-cups tri-color coleslaw
  • 1 1/2-cups chopped romaine
  • 1/2-cup shredded carrots
  • 4 green onions, sliced diagonally into long matchstick
  • a handful of fresh cilantro
  • 6-fresh basil leaves torn
  • 8-10 fresh mint leaves torn

Condiment: Nam jim rod dedt (chili vinegar with garlic) A versatile condiment in Thai cooking one might compare to a green chili Tabasco sauce. Refrigerated, it will last indefinitely.

  • 1/2-cup water
  • 1/2-cup soy sauce
  • 1/2-cup rice wine vinegar
  • 3-Tbsp honey
  • ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  • 1/3-cup serrano chili, minced
  • 1/3-cup garlic minced
  • 1/3-cup ginger, minced
  • 1/3-cup cilantro, chopped including roots


  1. Heat water, soy sauce, and vinegar in a small saucepan.
  2. Add honey to dissolve and set aside to cool completely (this process can be done ahead)
  3. Once cooled, transfer to a blender and add all other ingredients.
  4. Pulse to a sauce. If you prefer a thinner consistency increase ratio of water, soy, vinegar, and honey.

Dressing: (can be made ahead)

  • 1-tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/3-cup oyster/black bean stir-fry sauce
  • 3 Tbsp sesame oil
  • ½ cup lime juice
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 1/4-cup Nam jim rod dedt (chili vinegar with garlic)
  • ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  • 3 tbsp warm water
    3 tbsp tamarind pulp (can be purchased at Asian markets)


  1. Mix tamarind pulp with warm water and set aside
  2. Combine all dressing ingredients in a small bowl and add tamarind mixture.
  3. Taste-test dressing. If not sweet enough, adjust by adding a little more honey. If not salty enough, add a bit more soy sauce. If too sweet or salty, add more lime juice.
  4. In a mixing bowl combine, tomatoes, green onion, slaw, romaine, carrots, green beans, fresh herbs, and bean sprouts.
  5. Add dressing and toss thoroughly to combine.
  6. Add cashews and toss.
  7. To boost the nutrient value, serve with a side of steamed black rice*

*According to a study published in 2013 (see abstract), the results demonstrated that… black-purple rice in the dehulled form in which it is consumed by humans contains a rich, heterogeneous mixture of phytochemicals, which may provide a basis for the potential health benefits and highlights the possible use of the rice as a functional food.