I have never once in my life ordered Thai food without ordering at least one som tum, or green papaya salad. Most times I’ll order two so I can have one for breakfast the next morning, since it’s one of those salads that gets even more delicious as it sits. If I could, I would honestly buy soup containers full of nothing but the liquid that pools on the bottom of the salad bowl to drink with a straw. If you own a Thai restaurant, I urge you to put “som tum liquid in a cup” on your menu, because it’s an absolutely brilliant idea that’s guaranteed to make you dozens of dollars.
The reason I rarely make som tum myself is that the nearest supermarket that sells green papayas is a 30-minute drive, and there is no way in hell I’m going to spend 90 minutes satiating a craving for salad. (There’s too much risk that my appetite will pivot from vegetables to cookies in that timeframe.) Because of this, I long ago decided that in my household, green papaya could not be essential for green papaya salad. I use cabbage instead, which, as I’ve mentioned before, is almost always in my house. It’s cheap, easy to find, and easy to prepare in large quantities, meaning that I don’t need to settle for just a little bit of salad. I can have a lotta bit of salad! I can eat the salad when it’s ready at dinnertime, I can eat it when I sleepwalk into the kitchen at 2 a.m., I can eat it for breakfast and lunch the next day. And even without the papaya, the liquid at the bottom of the bowl is still perfect for slurping.
This recipe theoretically serves eight people, but trust me, you’re not going to want to share. If you’d like to add some protein to your salad to make it feel like a more substantial dinner (or breakfast), adding some easy crispy tofu will make you very, very happy.
- 2/3 cup lime juice (about 8 limes)
- 1/3 cup fish sauce
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 fat cloves garlic, Microplaned
- 1 minced Thai bird chili (optional)
- 8 cups finely shredded cabbage (I like using Napa cabbage, but green cabbage also works nicely)
- 1 pint halved cherry tomatoes, or 4 seeded and chopped plum tomatoes
- 4 oz. (roughly a handful) fresh green beans
- 3 whole scallions, thinly sliced
- 1 whole bunch cilantro
- 1 cup roasted salted peanuts
In a large salad bowl, whisk together the lime juice, fish sauce, brown sugar, salt, garlic, and chili (if using). Let it hang out so all its flavors meld while you shred your cabbage and prep the tomatoes.
Put the green beans in a medium microwave-safe bowl with 1/4 cup of water, then cover with plastic wrap and poke a few holes in it for steam to escape. Microwave the green beans for 2 minutes, then immediately drain and cover the green beans with ice water. Give them a minute or so to chill completely, then cut them into 1" pieces.
Give the salad dressing a taste and adjust to your personal preferences. Add the green beans, tomatoes, and scallion whites; toss to coat. Pile the shredded cabbage on top.
Run the bunch of cilantro under cold water, give it a shake to dry it off a bit, then trim off the very bottoms of the stems. Slice remaining stems into 1/2" pieces; they are full of flavor and should not be discarded! Roughly chop the cilantro leaves. Put the cabbage, cilantro (both stems and leaves), scallion greens, and peanuts into the bowl. When you’re ready to eat, toss the salad and serve immediately.