Thai papaya salad

It’d been a while since we dared to enter the Carmel Market on a late Friday afternoon. At that hour the shook is packed, so crowded you can barely move. The first sign it was late in the day (as if we needed one) was when I went to my greens guy and asked for a head of lettuce. He gave me four. Four heads of fluffy, curly lettuce. They filled an entire grocery bag. I guess he likes me as much as I like him.

As Eitan wilted in the heat, we cut a quick retreat down a side alley, coincidentally (or not) passing one of the far-east specialty stands. Among the many things that require cooking and the sundry strange gourds was a pile of green papayas — green, crunchy, watery papayas, which get chilled and grated into refreshing, Thai salads. I snatched one.

After all, a papaya salad is a great way to cool off in the summer. It’s light food, with a bit of heat — from hot peppers, of course; the salad itself is cold.

The recipe is more or less one I learned at a cooking course in Thailand, where you can find these salads whipped up by street vendors. There, the ingredients are pounded together with a wooden mortar and pestle, which bruises the ingredients to combine the flavors; it doesn’t smash them entirely. I made this in my stone mortar and pestle, because that’s what I have; if you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you could bruise the ingredients by mashing them with another hard object (say, a coffee cup); just don’t break your bowl.

All the ingredients are readily available in Israel, with the exception of limes, which appear in the markets only occasionally. (There happens to be one guy selling them at the Carmel Market at the moment; as usual, I stocked up. As to why limes are so hard to find in a country that specializes in citrus, I have no idea.)

Also: Here’s my map of Thai foods at the Carmel Market as well as my description of the shops.

For two servings:

1 garlic clove
1 small hot red pepper (optional)
4 Thai green beans (or 12 regular ones, about 40-50 grams)
1 tomato (about 100 grams)
1 teaspoon demarara sugar (or palm sugar, for the Thai original)
2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice (one lemon/lime)
1 tablespoon fish sauce — optional — or use salt — also optional, in my opinion
100 grams julienned green papaya (about half a small papaya)
1 tablespoon roasted chopped peanuts

Lightly chop and then crush the garlic clove and hot pepper in the mortar and pestle.

Chop the green beans into 1-inch (2-3 centimeter) strips, add to the mortar and pestle, and pound until broken.

Slice the tomato into thin wedges. Add to the mortar and pestle along with the sugar, lemon juice and optional salt/fish sauce. Pound to combine.

Julienne the papaya with a julienne peeler, food processor or knife. Add to the mortar and pestle and pound to mix.

Serve with crushed/chopped peanuts.

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