As a lover of all things limey, spicy & sour, Thai food tends to check all of my tastebud boxes. To me, flavorful Thai cuisine is the definition of umami with bold ingredients like pungent fish sauce, tangy lime juice and spicy peppers, often balanced with a perfect subtle sweetness. It’s my favorite genre of food and one that I’m constantly trying to replicate. This Green Papaya & Grilled Shrimp Salad is my latest attempt at recreating these tasty Thai flavors!
Green papaya salad is a popular find on most Thai menus. The non-lettuce salad combines thinly sliced green papaya, long beans and tomatoes with a dressing of pounded garlic, chilis, fish sauce and lime juice. It’s a light, fresh and ultra crunchy salad. As soon as I got a taste for it at one of our local Thai spots, I was hooked on that juicy, spicy crunch.
You can find green papaya at your local asian market. If you’re not a fan of sweet, ripe papaya, don’t rule this one out just yet. Unripe, green papaya tastes nothing like its sweet older sister. The julienned strands of unripened fruit have a mild taste on their own, perfect for taking on other flavors.
In most variations, dried shrimp gets pounded into the dressing. I decided to skip the dried shrimp and go for juicy grilled shrimp instead. Crushed peanuts are another staple that I left out…grocery store foul! While it’s a big ingredient in the classic version, the crunch of the papaya and carrot were enough for me, this time. If this is your first go at papaya salad, I’d recommend the peanut route.
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If you have a mortar & pestle, this is the time to break it out! The larger the better, but as you can see, I made it work, most of the way in this standard smaller mortar. The garlic and Thai chilis are the first to go in, followed by the palm sugar (coconut or light brown work, too). The goal is to mash these up into a paste-like texture. If there’s room in your mortar, you can snap the beans in and press them just enough to break, but not mash them (they’ll take in more flavor, this way). Finish it off with some fish sauce and lime juice. Stir it up and set it aside.
You can do this without a mortar and pestle. Mash the garlic, chilis and sugar in a sealable bag with a rolling pin, mason jar, pint glass. Throw the beans in the bag and give them a quick smash. Move to a bowl and stir in the fish sauce and lime juice.
Another useful tool for the job is a julienne peeler. The first time I tried to make papaya salad at home, I didn’t have the sharp-toothed tool. With the help of the internet and some improvisation, I ended up using this knife shredding technique, which for me, was more like a game of whack-a-mole. It got the job done, but a julienne peeler makes this process so much easier and gets thinner slices that I could get with my chop and swipe method.
To go along with the papaya, I like to add a julienned carrot or two, some sliced green onions and a couple handfuls of grape tomatoes, sliced in half. Toss it all with the dressing and set it aside to soak up some flavor.
In most green papaya salads, dried shrimp is pounded into the garlic and chilis. To make this a little more of a filling salad for two or appetizer for four, we’re adding grilled shrimp, instead. If you want to opt for the dried shrimp version, skip the skewers and dig right on into your green papaya salad!
If you’re going with the grill, give the shrimp a quick skewer and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and black & red pepper. Oil your grates and grill over medium heat for about 2-4 minutes per side, until they’re nice and opaque. I like to serve them right on top of a bountiful mound of this crunchy salad.
*Note: The lime juice in the dressing can break down the texture of the shrimp over time, so if you’re saving any leftovers, it’s a good idea to keep the shrimp in a separate container.
Hi, hungry friends! We’re Ashley & Sean, Louisiana natives with a big love of food! We’re a husband and wife dynamic duo who film & photograph people, places & food for a living. The Craft Chew is our food baby, inspired by our love of craft brews, tasty chews and a little nod to our furry pup, Chewy. Thanks for stopping by!