I used to go out with a guy with the most amazing Cambodian friends, who, it seemed, had out-of-this-world barbecues every weekend. One of my favorite dishes they would make to accompany the grilled meat was a green papaya salad. While the men gathered round the barbecue grill with their beers, the women would sit on a mat and make this salad from scratch.
A couple would be chopping up the papaya with their meat cleavers and then another would be pounding the chilis on a mortar and pestle, all the while gossiping.
I've ordered this salad at Thai restaurants but for some reason, it just never tasted as good as the ones I had those long ago barbecues. Perhaps it lacked the festive atmosphere, the sense of community and bonding.
Alas, when my ex and I broke up, he got to keep his Cambodian friends and I got relegated to not-as-good papaya salad. I've since doubted the wisdom of breaking up ... (Relationships have been built on much shakier foundations than really good papaya salad.)
Until, I started leafing through Chrissy Teigen's awesome cookbook, Cravings, and came upon this gem of a recipe. The results are exactly what I remember and have been longing for: garlicky, spicy, and sooooo addictive.
GREEN PAPAYA SALAD
by Chrissy Teigen
1 lime, halved
1 large Jalapeño pepper or 3 fresh Thai chiles
1 dried red Thai chile
2 cloves garlic
2 tbsp palm, raw, or light brown sugar
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 lb green papaya
3 tbsp chopped unsalted, roasted peanuts (optional)
1. Cut one-half of the lime into small wedges and place in a large mortar, along with fresh chiles (and dried chile, if using), garlic, and sugar. Crush with the pestle until the chiles are mashed and bruised but not totally pulverized and the sugar is dissolved.
2. Add the tomatoes and pound a few times to bruise the tomatoes.
3. Squeeze the juice from the remaining lime half (about 1 tbsp) into the mortar and stir in the fish sauce.
4. Peel and seed the papaya then shred with a food processor or mandolin.
5. Add the papaya to the mortar and mash and toss lightly. Top with peanuts.