Thursday, March 11, 2010

Som Tom For Spring

Last week, we had spring. It was a lovely day. I spent it with a shy crocus while I ate lunch outside jacketed out of the wind and under the budding sun. I think the crocus was smart not to bloom quite yet for winter returned and suddenly spring went white again. That nature, it sure is smart.

Unlike me, who quickly found my feet again and boxed up my boots and found my flip flops to click around the house. But that was that one day last week and now we are back to slippers and warm oats for breakfast and a drizzle of honey instead of the sun.

And so we March on in March where we have time changes and spring dated to arrive, but the flip flopping of winter to spring and back again continues. It's as if we are in seasonal limbo when we get these glimpses of green, a bold mud puddle pushing away ice and even the faint smell of earth under melting snow. And yet we must carry on, still layered. We tell ourselves we love oatmeal and woolen hats after all these months while catalogs start to arrive with tanned people all dressed in their catalog-fresh beachwear on "holiday." Maybe you even pass people at work who find it cute to say, "Aloha". No, not so cute.

So perhaps you are like me and you're not going on vacation to some palmed destination and cannot seem to muster a love for anything baked or roasted while you tell yourself you are not deep in cabin or suburbian fever. No, you are simply bored with even your favorite late winter recipes and cannot seem to muster a sense of cravings. You know you want something fresh, something with a pale shade of green. Something with the hint of coconut on your tongue. This Thai salad might not solve any seasonal limbo malaise, but it certainly helped me.

Last week, the day spring came, we also had Thai week at our cooking school and this salad developed from some ingredients we special ordered; however, I'd like to think you too could find some of these even if it isn't Thai week in your world. Perhaps you could invent some type of week for yourself and come up with something even more creative such as a week dedicated to the coconut. Or maybe "everything has gone galangal". Instead of the adage of when in Rome for a week of Italian food, why not make it "when in Cambodia?" Something off the mark, but close enough.

For example, I taught a group of Indian priests, who told me that they didn't have Valentine's day in India, but a day loosely translated as, "The Day I think of You as my Sister." Frankly, I don't think anything got lost in translation, rather a better idea developed. Such is true with this recipe. It calls for green papaya, but if you cannot find it you could use cucumber instead. The important part is to get the flavors of the tangy sweet well deserved vacation in your mouth from anything melted or mashed.

This simple dish called Som Tom in Thai is, according to one food blogger who traveled through Thailand, a favorite among Thai ladies. Maybe I should call it, "My Spring Salad I would serve to my Sister if she could come over for Lunch." Whatever you call it, I hope you make it. Enjoy.

Simple Som Tom

1 Thai chile (these are really hot, you could use a small red chile for color and they are a bit milder in heat than the green ones)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup lime juice, freshly squeezed limes
2 tablespoons fish sauce
4 tablespoons palm sugar
(you could use brown sugar instead)
1 pound green papaya, julienne
1/4 cup bean sprouts
1/4 cup toasted coconut
1/2 cup toasted peanuts

1. In a small bowl, add the chile, garlic, lime juice, fish sauce, palm sugar and mix well until the sugar dissolves.
2. In a large bowl, add papaya, bean sprouts and coconut and mix well.
3. Add dressing to papaya mixture and blend to coat. Add peanuts last and mix well.

Enjoy your food vacation.


  1. I so very much love green papaya salad, but one can't find the green papaya around here... somehow the local Thai joint manages to get a shipment so every once in a while I indulge there. It does taste like you've been transplanted somewhere with palms. Delish. mmmmm.

  2. I happened to put down my thoughts on spring last week when it was visiting, so I was feeling full and sated feasting on the sunshine and earthy smells. Now, after a few days of rain, I think I'm much in need of a food vacation. Sounds like a good time to try this salad.

    Also, I love the idea of The Day I Think of You as My Sister. I find myself inventing all kinds of reasons to make certain foods and have holidays this time of year. It must be the sub-conscious plotting a getaway.

    Thanks for sharing!