not all who wander are lost.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Crazy for GREEN Papaya Salad

Papaya's - hate 'em. My friend Andy and I named them "Poo-Paya's" in Costa Rica last year because we agreed that they taste like a mix of swiss cheese, poo, and fruit. Yuck. I'm a rather adventurous eater, and I enjoy mostly everything that hits my lips, but I just can't get down with the poopaya's. Shawn (my man) and I love to eat Vietnamese food, and whenever we go out he always orders the Green Papaya Salad (Gỏi). I was skeptical at first, given my distaste towards poopaya, but I was pleasantly surprised at how delicious this green papaya was! It has a similar texture to apples, carrots, or pears, that have been julienned. I was convinced that there was NO way that my beloved Green Papaya was any way related to it's poo cousin. So today, I did some research. Well I didn't have to look far to discover that the poo and the delicious green pa are one in the same -- only the green used for the salad is simply unripe.

This is an unripe {green} papaya:

This is a ripe poopaya:

There are two variations of Gỏi: the Vietnamese version and the Thai version. I much prefer the Vietnamese way. Both are somewhat similar, but vary in two or three key ingredients. My favorite is the Vietnamese Green Papaya Salad with Beef Jerky. It may sound odd, but it is a delectable meeting of ingredients. The papaya is julienned, and combined with bits of shredded beef jerky -- SO good. I scoured the world wide web for a recipe that seemed perfect, and I finally found a good one. The recipe comes from Andrea Nguyen, author of "Into the Vietnamese Kitchen".

3 tbsp. fish sauce
2 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
2 Thai chiles, stemmed, seeded,
and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 green papaya
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 cups loosely packed, roughly
torn Thai basil
4 oz. Asian-style hot fruit beef jerky
(preferably Hsin Tung Yangbrand),
shredded by hand

1. Whisk together fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, chiles, and garlic in a small bowl until sugar dissolves. Set dressing aside.

2. Peel papaya and trim ends. Halve papaya lengthwise and, using a spoon, scoop out the seeds and the thin white layer lining the cavity. Using a Japanese mandoline fitted with the julienne blade, cut the papaya into 1/8" thick strips. Transfer papaya to a colander and sprinkle with the salt and sugar; toss to combine. Let sit until juicy and pliant, 30–45 minutes.

3. Rinse papaya under cold water and drain. Working in batches, transfer papaya to a tea towel and wring out excess moisture. Place papaya in a large bowl and toss to separate the strips. Add reserved dressing along with the basil and toss to combine. Serve topped with the shredded beef jerky.

***To SIMPLIFY this Recipe: just prepare the papaya as it says, top with a handful of thai basil leaves, some beef jerky, and then a (premade) chili-soy sauce dressing that can be found at any asian supermarket.

Here's a bit of info about the famous GREEN PAPAYA. When picking one up at the (Asian) Supermarket you want to pick out the most firm fruit available. Mushy or soft in any way is no good. Your best bet on finding unripe papaya's would be in the summer, when they are in season. You want the skin to be green, and the flesh to be very pale green to white in color. The flavor of the unripe papaya is pretty bland, which is why it makes for such a great Vietnamese salad -- it has a great texture, and it absorbs every bit of sweet, spicy, hot, sour, salty spices that are used.

The Vietnamese Green Papaya Salad is packed with amazing flavors, and (thankfully) very low in fat and calories and high in fiber. Throw some crushed cashews or peanuts on top for some added flavor. You don't have to use beef jerky either, you could top with shredded pork, or with shrimp -- or with nothing at all. And don't go using "Wild Bill's Beef Jerky", pick up some Vietnamese spicy beef jerky, called Khô Bò. No matter how you eat it, whatever toppings you select, I KNOW that you will love this dish!!! Hooray for GREEN PAPAYA!

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food"
- George Bernard Shaw

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