Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Green Papaya Salad

Cheryl and I painted the kitchen over the weekend, adding to the sense of disorder in the house because all of the wall decorations and our ceramics from Spain had to be taken down and stacked up out of the way. The kitchen is now much lighter and brighter and seems larger than before. The trim is next, but we need to scrub all the doorways and baseboards first, and we are pretending now that might happen magically and without our physical interference if we just wait long enough.

We still are waiting for the flooring to arrive, so it is difficult to ignore the painting that needs to be done. A diversion was called for, and we found one when Dar, our housekeeper, agreed to show us how to make green papaya salad. We've known Dar for years and have been to several events at the Buddhist temple she attends in Tampa.
If you have not had green papaya salad in a Thai restaurant, let me give you a reason to go on living. The basic ingredients for the salad include hot peppers (in this case, real Thai peppers from our garden), garlic, palm sugar, green beans, tomatoes, fish sauce, peanuts and lime. Not shown in the picture is the green papaya (from our tree in the side yard), which is shredded into strips along with some carrot. Green papaya has about the same consistency as carrot, and with a subtle flavor not at all like a ripe papaya. In Brazil we had the best ripe papayas, nothing like the sad excuses we get in the store here or, sadder to think, even from our own tree last year.

The garlic, peppers and sugar are put in a large mortar and smashed with a baseball-bat sized pestle and gradually the greens beans and papaya are added, pounding and mashing all the time. Dar was not tall enough to pound the mixture on the counter top so she put everything on the floor (which she had already cleaned) and pounded away. Cheryl and I sat down, too, and watched. Finally and after some whining I got to smack the stuff around.

During this process the kitchen filled up with the most wonderful aromas: garlic, pepper, lime and the sweet smell of palm sugar. As the pounding continued, the papaya softened up and began to absorb all the flavors. We threw in some peanuts and pounded more. Put in some fish sauce and pounded. Dar says that this dish is a staple in Thailand, eaten at all times of the day, and I can see why. We encouraged her to put in more Thai peppers. She gave us the same look that you see often in Thai restaurants when you ask for "Thai hot"--that amused look of a adult protecting a child from some silliness--but she finally did add another pepper, then more sugar.

The end result is to the right. Cheryl and I must have eaten a pound of it.
Because we started with a huge bowl of shredded papaya we put some aside for a second batch. Dar left us here mortar and pestle, so yesterday I took the leftovers and gave it a try. Not as good as the original but not bad.

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