KUALA LUMPUR, July 9 — Some days a simple main course isn’t enough for a meal. Sure, you could have a dessert or some fruit afterwards. But it’s a little bit more of the savoury that

you’re after.

This is where a side salad can come in handy, rescuing you from your weekend dinner doldrums. Whether it’s a refreshing and creamy raspberry and Brie summer salad or a sinuses-clearing wasabi prawn salad, there’s a bowlful of greens for every palate.

Then there are the not-so-usual suspects. A salad doesn’t have to be all leafy vegetables with some morsels of protein, be it tofu or teriyaki chicken, thrown in. Some salads aren’t true salads at all but a marvel in and of themselves.

With the humid weather recently, scorching sun one minute and haphazard downpour the next, I confess I have been longing for something less hearty and more of a sense-soaring pick-me-up.

Using green mangoes makes this a 'som tam mamuang.'
Using green mangoes makes this a 'som tam mamuang.'

Something with every flavour imaginable - salty and sweet, tangy and full of umami, with plenty of spice to wake me from the muggy torpor.

I’m thinking of som tam, of course.

This Thai classic is made from shredded green (unripe) papaya pounded together with a mouthwatering array of ingredients - tomatoes and green beans, dried shrimp and fish sauce, garlic and chillies, lime juice and palm sugar - before a final dusting of ground peanuts.

Some would consider this heaven in a single bite. I’d be hard pressed to disagree.

Julienned green mango and red chillies.
Julienned green mango and red chillies.


The name som tam is derived from the Thai words for "sour” (som) and "pounded” (tam), which refers to the unripe papaya typically used. There are other variations, of course: cucumber, unripe bananas and green mangoes.

That last one is what I’m making use of here since green mangoes are easier to obtain. This would make this version a som tam mamuang as mangoes are called mamuang in Thai. If you can find green papayas, however, feel free to use the original ingredient.

One crucial utensil would be the pestle and mortar. Traditional mortars used to make som tam tend to be taller and have larger volume, but I have found a smaller mortar works just as well though you might need to pound the ingredients in batches to prevent them from flying all over your kitchen!

A burst of flavour: Garlic and cherry tomatoes.
A burst of flavour: Garlic and cherry tomatoes.

Whatever you do, don’t use a food processor or otherwise all you will get is mush. Using a pestle to pound these ingredients allows them to be merely lightly bruised. Consider this approach as a gentler way to coax all those precious aromatic oils and flavours to come out.

An electrical processor will merely pulverise everything - that won’t be a salad but a gruel you’ll be serving at the dining table!


3-4 red chillies

2 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon palm sugar

2 tablespoons toasted peanuts

1 tablespoon dried shrimp

2 long beans, cut into bite-sized pieces

4 cherry tomatoes, halved

Juice from 2 limes, freshly squeezed

1 teaspoon tamarind juice

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 large green mango, julienned and soaked in ice water

Extra ground toasted peanuts, as garnish

Go green: Long beans and limes.
Go green: Long beans and limes.


Add the red chillies and garlic to a large mortar. (Do this in batches if you have a small mortar.) Pound the chillies and garlic with the pestle till these are lightly mashed but haven’t formed a paste.

Next, add the palm sugar, toasted peanuts and dried shrimp. Continue to pound until these have broken down and form a loose paste.

Now you can add the vegetables - the long beans and cherry tomatoes. Keep pounding until the long beans are crushed and the tomatoes have released some of their juices, thereby thinning the dry paste you have formed earlier.

Sweet and nutty: Palm sugar and toasted peanuts.
Sweet and nutty: Palm sugar and toasted peanuts.

From the mortar to the plate, a taste bud tingling Thai salad.
From the mortar to the plate, a taste bud tingling Thai salad.

Add the liquids - the lime juice, tamarind juice and fish sauce - and stir these in using the pestle and until everything is well combined.

Finally, remove the julienned green mango from the ice water that you’ve been soaking them in, drain and pat dry thoroughly. Add these to the mortar and pound together with the mixture.

You only need to pound for about half a minute so that the green mango has absorbed some of the flavourful juices. Remove from the mortar and transfer to plates. Garnish with more toasted peanuts, if desired. Serve immediately.

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