Put some sweet and spicy Thai in your fruit salad offerings this holiday season with this recipe from Pok Pok, Food and Stories from the Streets, Homes, and Roadside Restaurants of Thailand (Ten Speed Press, Fall 2013) by Andy Ricker of Pok Pok restaurant with J.J. Goode.
Som Tam Phonlamai,Thai Fruit Salad
Just one of many examples of som tam that has nothing to do with green papaya (I do like to add some for this rendition, but you could certainly leave it out) and almost everything to do with the method of preparation: made in a clay mortar, the salad requires the same gentle pounding that aims to bruise but not smash the main ingredients, allowing some of the sweet-tart dressing to pervade. Use any fruit you want, even if it’s just one or two kinds. Be sure to choose fruit that strikes a good balance between sweetness and tartness. If the fruit is very sweet, you’ll want to scale back on the sugar and perhaps bump up the lime juice.
Flavor Profile: Sweet, spicy, tart, slightly salty
Try It With: Plaa Neung Si Ew (Steamed whole fish with soy sauce), page 79, or Kai Yaang (Whole roasted young chicken), page 135, and coconut rice (page 193).
A papaya shredder (or mandoline or large knife)
A Thai clay mortar
A wooden pestle
Serves 2 to 6 as part of a meal; you can double the recipe in a large clay mortar
1 generous tablespoon medium-size dried shrimp, rinsed and patted dry
1 ounce palm sugar
1/4 teaspoon water
1 small lime (preferably a Key lime), halved through the stem
3 grams fresh Thai chiles (about 2), preferably red
1 tablespoon lime juice (preferably from Key limes or spiked with a small squeeze of Meyer lemon juice)
1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce
1 ounce peeled, shredded green papaya (about 1/2 cup, lightly packed)
14 grams peeled carrot, cut into long (about 3-inch), thin (about 1/8-inch) strips (about 1/4 cup, lightly packed)
8 ounces mixed crunchy, sweet, and tart fruit (such apple, pear, pineapple, green mango, and persimmon), any inedible skin peeled, cut into irregular 1-inch chunks
8 to 10 grapes, halved
2 ounces cherry tomatoes (about 4), halved, or quartered if very large
2 generous tablespoons coarsely chopped unsalted roasted peanuts
DRY-FRY THE SHRIMP AND SOFTEN THE PALM SUGAR
Heat a small dry pan or wok over medium heat, add the dried shrimp, and cook, stirring frequently, until they’re dry all the way through and slightly crispy, about 5 minutes. Set them aside in a small bowl to cool. They’ll keep covered at room temperature for up to 1 week.
Put the palm sugar in a small microwavable bowl, sprinkle on the 1/4 teaspoon of water, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and microwave on low just until the sugar has softened (not liquefied), 10 to 30 seconds. Pound the mixture in a mortar (or mash it in the bowl) until you have a smooth paste. Covered, it will keep soft for up to 2 days.
MAKE THE SALAD
Cut one of the lime halves lengthwise into thirds, then cut the thirds in half crosswise. Set aside 2 of the pieces (reserve the remaining lime for another purpose).
Combine the chiles and 1 heaping teaspoon (or less if the fruit is very sweet) of the softened palm sugar in a large clay mortar and pound just until you have a chunky sludge with medium pieces of chile, 5 to 10 seconds.
Add the 2 lime wedges and pound very lightly and briefly, just to release the juice, then add the shrimp and pound lightly just to release their flavor (don’t smash or pulverize them).
Add the lime juice, fish sauce, papaya, and carrot. The next step is easy but subtle. You want to use the pestle to barely bruise the papaya (lightly pounding at a slight angle, not directly up-and-down) for about 10 seconds, while simultaneously using a large spoon to scoop up from the bottom of the mortar, essentially tossing the papaya, palm sugar mixture, and the other ingredients as you pound. Do not smash the papaya. It should remain crisp.
Add the fruit, including the grapes, and pound the same way you did the papaya, barely bruising the fruit and definitely not smashing it.
Add the tomatoes and pound lightly, just to release the juice. Taste the salad and if necessary, season with additional lime juice and fish sauce to achieve a salad that’s, in descending order of prominence, sweet from the fruit, spicy, sour, and a little salty.
Finally, add the peanuts and mix well with the spoon. Transfer to a plate, liquid and all, in a low mound, and serve.
(* Reprinted with permission from Pok Pok by Andy Ricker with J.J. Goode, copyright © 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc, Photography: Austin Bush © 2013)