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How to make som tam – recipe

The perfect dish for high summer: Felicity Cloake’s som tam. Photograph: Robert Billington/The Guardian. Food stylist: Laurie Perry.

This crunchy, addictively savoury and keenly sour Thai salad is the perfect dish for high summer wherever you are, satisfying as it does twin cravings for the cooling properties of fresh veg and the reviving punch of chilli heat.

The salty, tangy dressing is so delicious, it needs nothing more than some sticky rice on the side to soak it up, reports The Guardian.

Prep 25 min

Cook 8 min

Serves 4

2 tbsp dried shrimp – see step 1 (optional)

3 tbsp peanuts

2 garlic cloves

1 pinch coarse salt

2-6 red bird’s eye chillies, or other hot chillies, depending on your degree of bravery

3 snake beans, or 12 French beans

10 cherry tomatoes, or 5 larger ones

275g green papaya (about 1 medium fruit) – see step 5

1 lime cut into wedges, plus 3 tbsp fresh lime juice

1 tbsp tamarind water – see step 7

2 tbsp fish sauce (plant-based, if necessary

3 tbsp shaved palm sugar, or coconut or soft light brown sugar

1 A note on the ingredients

There are a few things here that, though not especially hard to find, will probably require a visit to a specialist south-east Asian grocer or website. Dried shrimp are what give this dish its distinctive umami quality. If you can’t find them, add extra fish sauce in step 8 to taste – vegan versions are available.

2 Dry-fry the shrimp and nuts

Rinse the shrimp, if using, then pat dry. Put a small frying pan on a medium-high heat, then dry-fry the shrimp, stirring, for about four minutes, until crisp. Tip out into a bowl, add the peanuts (ideally not salted ones, though most kinds bar chocolate-coated ones will work here) to the pan, and dry-fry them, too, shaking the pan until they’re golden all over. Tip out on to a board and roughly chop.

3 Pound the garlic, shrimp, nuts and chilli

Peel and trim the garlic, then put in a mortar with the salt and grind to a paste. Add the shrimp and two-thirds of the peanuts, and crush to a rough paste. Take the stalks off the chillies (remove the pith and seeds, too, if you prefer less heat), then roughly chop. Add to the mortar and bruise with the pestle; if you want your som tam to be really spicy, pound away to break them down into the paste

4 Add the beans and tomatoes

Top and tail the beans (note: snake beans are also sold as yardlong beans), then cut into roughly 1cm lengths. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half (if using a larger variety, cut into bite-sized chunks). Add the beans and tomatoes to the mortar and roughly bruise – if it’s too full, work in batches, then transfer to a bowl. Do not wash the mortar!

5 Prepare the papaya

Peel and deseed the papaya (look for a dark green fruit, rather than an orange-skinned one). Writer Leela Punyaratabandhu explains that som tam simply means a pounded salad, so the papaya can be replaced by any other crunchy vegetable, including swede, beetroot, turnip, radish, carrot, cabbage, cucumber or chayote/chow chow (look for the latter in Latin American or South Asian specialist shops).

6 Shred the papaya

Cut the papaya, or whatever you’re using, into narrow matchsticks. A julienne peeler or mandoline would be useful here, as would a similar attachment on a food processor or a bespoke papaya shredder, but a sharp knife and some patience will do in their stead. (Grating gives the fruit a stubby, slightly mushy texture, which is less than ideal.)

7 A note on the tamarind water

Tamarind water is made by soaking tamarind pulp in boiling water, and straining the results – the website souschef.co.uk has a good guide if your packet lacks instructions. Tamarind pastes are also available; they’re easier to use, but are usually far more concentrated, so add only a little at a time to taste.

8 Bruise the papaya

Working in batches, lightly bruise the papaya shreds in the mortar, then add to the bowl with the other pounded ingredients. Put the lime juice, tamarind water, fish sauce and sugar into the mortar (again, don’t wash it out), then mix until the sugar dissolves. Taste and adjust as necessary: it should be a balance of sour, salty and sweet.

9 Finishing touches

Pour the dressing into the salad bowl and toss, making sure the peanut and chilli paste is well distributed, then transfer to a serving dish. Just before serving, sprinkle with the remaining chopped peanuts, so they don’t go soggy. This salad is by far best eaten fresh, but it can be made in advance and refrigerated.