Sunday, January 1, 2012

Third Date Mango Salad

Choosing the first recipe to blog was easy for me. I really want to share with you my interpretation of my favourite dish in Thailand: som tam, a green papaya salad originating from north-east (the Isaan region). The original recipe is based on raw shredded green papaya with a wonderfully zingy dressing including raw garlic, chilli and lime.  It’s a plate of sweet, spicy, salty sour heaven with a fresh crunchy texture. And the best part is that there are street stands all over the country selling it for just a few baht. It is mixed together in a special pot, which looks like a large wooden mortar and pestle. But be sure to keep count on the number of chillies dropped into the pot. Even one of those little firecrackers is enough to clear the sinuses!

I wanted to share this particular version of the salad with you because it has a special significance for me.  I served it to my fiancĂ© as a starter the very first time I cooked for him – I had to test out whether he could fall in love with Thai food to know whether we had any kind of future together! Choosing food to cook on dates is a delicate business. It has to taste amazing but can’t be too messy to eat or leave you too bloated and I think this hits the spot.

So this version salad keeps the flavours of the som tam in the dressing but ups the crunch and colour by throwing in more raw ingredients.  Green papaya, which is usually tricky to find outside of tropical climates has been replaced by a selection of easy to find, colourful and tasty raw fruit and vegetables. The main twist is the addition of slivers of juicy mango. This gives the dish a sweetness which adds a flash of warm colour and balances out some of the fire of the raw chilli and garlic. I have significantly toned down the quantity of chilli and also opted for a more mellow variety. The only substitution which vegetarians will need to make is the fish sauce, which is easily replaced with light soy.

Time: 30 mins
Rating: Easy – nothing in here is complicated and no cooking involved, you just need a little patience to chop the veg neatly.
Serves: 4 - This dish  makes a lovely light lunch or starter, but for fuller bellies, serve it as an accompaniment to griddled chicken breast (see laid back marinated chicken).

250g carrots (2 fairly large)
1 red bell pepper
Cabbage, 4 large leaves – savoy is ideal but I can’t find that in Bangkok so I’ve used a soft leafy white cabbage.
120g cucumber – about 1/3
100g sugar snap peas
2 spring onions
8 cherry tomatoes
1 ripe but not too soft mango

2 cloves garlic
3 large mild red chillies
3 tbsp lime juice – about the juice of one big lime
1 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp fish sauce (or light soy sauce for a vegetarian alternative)
1 tsp brown sugar

30g peanuts.

  1. Start with the dressing so all of those flavours have a chance to rest and combine. Crush or finely chop the garlic. Deseed then finely chop the chillies. Add the other dressing ingredients and mix well. I like to use an empty jar, put on the lid tightly and shake.
  2. Next lightly toast the nuts in a pan. Even if they are already roasted, toasting them gives them an extra bit of flavour. Keep an eye on them so they don’t burn. They should just brown a little and smell delicious. Once they have fully cooled, coarsely chop or gently crush in a mortar and pestle.
  3. Next, get started on the vegetables. Take time to chop the vegetables neatly. It obviously won’t change the taste but will wonders for the presentation. Start by chopping the carrots. Cut them into thirds lengthways, then into slices lengthways of about 4 or 5mm in thickness, and then lengthways again so they fall into evenly sized matchsticks.
  4. Next, the pepper. Cut it in half lengthways, deseed then cut into strips the same thickness as the carrots. Then comes the cabbage. Discard any outer leaves that have wilted. Cut out the hard core part from the bottom of the leaf, leaving a triangle-shaped hole. Roll the leaf up from the bottom upwards into a long sausage shape. Then cut width-ways across the roll into strips, about 5mm thick.
  5. Cut the cucumber into quarters and deseed. Then cut into strips the same size as the carrots. Then trim the sugar snap peas and cut in half lengthways at a diagonal. This exposes the peas or beans inside and will help trap some of the dressing. Trim off the green part of the spring onions. Cut the remaining white part into thin strips lengthways. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half. If you have plum cherry tomatoes or another oval shaped variety, cut lengthways.
  6. Lastly comes the mango. Cut a little off the top and bottom so you ca n stand it upright on the chopping board. Using a sharp knife cut away the skin from the top down, being careful not to waste the flesh. Once fully peeled, turn onto its side and cut the flesh away from the stone, keeping the two halves as intact as possible. Then cut slithers about 5mm thick widthways across each half. Set aside – the mango is very delicate and it will turn to mush if tossed too vigorously with the other ingredients.
  7. Put all of the salad ingredients into a bowl except for the mango and nuts. Dress the salad and toss it. Once the dressing is evenly coated add the mango and gently toss once more. Sprinkle the nuts on top and serve!

You really can use any vegetables you like. Just make sure they’re crunchy and colourful and that you take time with the chopping. Some alternatives to those listed above are:

·        Baby corn
·        Fennel
·        Green beans
·        Mangetout
·        Radishes
·        Red cabbage
·        Celery

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