There are lots of region variations of this dish. I prefer making it with dead green papaya, but any combination of carrots and diakon (use a shreader and don’t pound them) is also fine. I have used cabbage and nopalitos but without much success.
The key to success is a balance of flavors. As the ingredients vary in intensity, taste and adjust the recipe as needed.
In a stoneware mortar from Dankwean, with a wooden pestle or by other means, pound 3 or four black pepper corns, 8 small cloves of garlic, 5- chilli pequins (also known as bird pepper or mouse shit pepper) until well mashed or fine. You can use 3 serrano peppers, or if you want no heat, a mild poblano. Standard US sweet green peppers are better than nothing but not quite right.
If available toast in a dry skillet 1/8 cup dried shrimp (you want to just start to toast and for them all to get hot). Add the shrimp to the mortar and pound some more. You can do the same with fresh toasted peanuts. Add 2 tablespoons of lime juice (you can use some sour orange juice or mashed kumquat as well), and 2 tablespons of fish sauce. You may substitute a teaspoon of shrimp paste or fish paste for 1 tablespoon of fish sauce.
Julliene 3-4 cups of peeled dead green papaya (1/16- 1/8″ strips) (probably not available in a regular grocery store). To do this the Thai way, peel the whole papaya. Hold the whole papaya in one hand with the stem end facing towards you. Take a straight bladed knife and quickly chop parallel cuts into the papaya as you turn it. When you have chopped it sufficiently take a coarse vegetable peeler and peel off the no julliened strips. A coarse shredder is not really sufficiently thin, but “any som tam ส้มตำ is better than no som tam” no?
In batches take the papaya and pound them medium gently in the mortar until slightly translucent. Place them in a serving dish. When all the papaya is pounded make sure it is well mixed. Taste it. It should be peppery, garlicy, and a bit fishy. Usually I have to add some more fish sauce and sometimes lime juice. The traditional recipe calls for a bit of raw cane sugar (jaggery). I generally leave it out.
Chopped tomato’s and a bit of parsley or celery leaves make good garni . T
Green papaya can be hard on the digestive track due to enzymes. You should probably hold back on this and limit yourself to less than a cup a day. It can cause sores just like pineapple and green mango.
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