Pok Pok is an unassuming–almost tropical-looking–always packed to the gills–Thai restaurant in Portland, Oregon. Located in a small house, what it lacks in decor and panache, it makes up for many times over in taste. All of the dishes are loaded with the flavors…hot, spicy, herby, of the street food of Southeast Asia. The restaurant’s owner, Andy Ricker, is so well-known, that he has been heralded as the U.S. ambassador of Thai food. Green Papaya Salad (som tam) is a signature dish at the restaurant, and it can only be described as a whirlwind on a plate–so many flavors all melding together, the sweet, the tangy, the fishy (in a good way), and lastly, the hot (watch out for those Thai chilies!). It’s a perfect dish to bring on a picnic, as it mellows out a bit while it sits. Green Papaya can sometimes be difficult to find, but look for it in Asian markets. It will definitely be worth the time spent searching for it. If you really cannot locate it, an adequate substitute would be another crisp vegetable like jicama.
Spicy Green Papaya Salad
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce (yes, this smells awful, but it is intrinsic to the recipe)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 Thai chiles, minced
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon minced peeled fresh ginger
2 pounds green papaya—peeled, seeded and cut into 1 1/4-by-1/4-inch sticks
1 firm, barely ripe mango—peeled, sliced off the pit and cut into 1 1/4-by-1/4-inch sticks
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup shredded mint leaves
1/2 pint small grape tomatoes, halved (this is my addition and it’s optional)
1 firm avocado, cubed (this is my optionaladdition–it can be added just before serving)
1/2 cup salted peanuts, chopped
In a blender, puree the lime juice with the garlic, fish sauce, sugar, chiles and ginger. In a large bowl, toss the papaya with the tomatoes, mango, cilantro and mint. Add the dressing and toss. Season with salt. Add the cubed avocado and toss again. Sprinkle the chopped peanuts over the top of the salad and serve.