Thai Green Papaya Salad

IMG_0803On hot summer days, all I want is something cold. I want cold breakfast, lunch, and dinner along with plenty of cold beverages throughout the day. Salads definitely fit the bill and hit the spot. But I easily get tired of eating the same lettuce based salads with vinaigrette dressing. Bleh. Especially since I have been trying to eat more healthfully lately, I feel as if I’ve fallen into a rut with my meals. Which is why I am so excited to post this recipe for a Thai green papaya salad. It is a different kind of salad because it tastes rich at the same time that it is light and healthy. I love Thai food because of its complexity in flavor combinations and textures. Most Thai dishes have a delicate balance of savory, sweet, and spicy. This mixture tantalizes your taste buds and keeps you coming back for more after every bite.

Green papaya is such a wonderful base for a salad because it has very little flavor of its own beside a clean fresh taste. It is a chameleon that changes its flavor profile based on what is in its environment. In this case, limes, garlic, chili, and dried shrimp create a flavor explosion in your mouth. Thai papaya salad is traditionally prepared by mortar and pestle. You start by grinding together your aromatics and herbs first. Once that forms a nice paste,  you begin pounding that flavor into the shredded papaya. This is different than Vietnamese papaya salad, which involves no pounding at all. It is still shredded finely, but it is served plain. It is then dressed with a sweet vinegary soy sauce mix, then topped with fresh basil, sweet and savory beef jerky, and freshly roasted peanuts. Both are delicious of course, but I chose the Thai route because I was craving a sour punch to my dinner tonight.

The best part of this salad? The longer you have it sitting in its own juices, the tastier it becomes! The flavors really develop and meld together after sitting overnight. I’ve seen this served with some boiled shrimp at Thai restaurants for some added protein.

 

Cooking Tips

Invest in a mandolin or some kind of food processor that has a shredder attachment. You won’t be sorry. This will open up a world of possibilities in terms of expanding your experience with fresh veggies. Raw veggies are so much more tolerable when they are cut finely and allowed to marinade in something delicious.

I’ve heard people say that grinding your aromatics is better than using a food processor because a food processor cuts up and breaks the cell walls of the food in question. In this case, I used a food processor to mince my garlic and dried shrimp and the papaya salad still turned out delicious.

If you do not own a mortar and pestle, using your hands to punch and squeeze the papaya salad into the lemon juice mixture will also work. Just remember to wear sanitary cooking gloves while you do this; otherwise, your skin will become irritated from the acidity of the lime juice and chili.

If you want to make this dish vegetarian, just omit the dried shrimp and substitute salt for the fish sauce. Make sure to taste as you go to adjust for seasonings.

Only put peanuts on to the specific portions you plan on eating. Adding peanuts to all of your papaya salad will lead to soggy peanuts the next day.

Recipe
Servings: 6-8
Prep Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients
1 medium green papaya, finely shredded into 3-inch long pieces
1 handful of dried shrimp, finely chopped
1 head garlic, minced
1 tbsp red chili flake (or to taste)
juice of 4 limes, freshly squeezed
7-8 tbsp fish sauce, to taste
1 tbsp white sugar, or to taste
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1 handful of green beans, cut into 2-inch pieces and sliced lengthwise in half
optional: top with handful of crushed peanuts

Prepare papaya by peeling the skin off, cutting in half length-wise, and scooping out all the seeds. Using a mandolin, shredder, or food processor with shredding attachment, cut papaya into thin julienne slices approximately 3-inches in length. Set aside.

Using mortar and pestle, grind together dried shrimp, garlic, and red chili flake. When a relatively smooth paste has formed, add in some of the papaya and pound into the paste with the pestle. Continue to add papaya until no more can fit into the mortar bowl.Transfer the mixed in papaya salad into a large mixing bowl and add the rest of the shredded papaya. Add in fish sauce and sugar and use hands to mix into papaya salad. Use hands to squeeze papaya and pound it with your fist. This will help to enhance absorption of flavor.

Then add in green beans and cherry tomatoes and continue to squeeze and pound until all tomatoes are slightly crushed.

Serve a portion onto a plate and top with roasted peanuts. (Only put peanuts onto the specific portions you plan on eating.)

Enjoy!

 

Chickpea Quinoa Salad with Avocado

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My fiancée and I recently started working out at a fitness boot camp that provided a clean eating meal plan. As we were getting tired of open-faced turkey avocado sandwiches and salads without dressing, I thought I would venture out and try different ways to eat light and healthy, while incorporating lots of yummy and fiberful veggies and enough protein to keep us energized and strong throughout the day. So I thought quinoa and chickpeas would be the perfect power couple for the job. In my fight against the summer heat, I shield myself with lots of sunscreen and eat lots of cold dishes that are full of hydrating veggies. I hope that you enjoy this summer salad as part of your backyard BBQ spread or as part of a healthy eating routine!

Cooking tips:

My problem with clean and healthy eating is that it can be extreme and bland. I don’t enjoy foods that contain zero salt and zero fat. They are incredibly unsatisfying and leave me with almost irresistible cravings for fat, salt, AND sugar (salted caramel ice cream anyone?). So to trick my mind into eating healthier, I often have to disguise my healthful foods and dress them up so that they feel more gourmet and not like I’m eating “grass,” in the words of Paula Dean. The solution: lots of fresh herbs, spices, moderate amounts of salt, and even, dare I say, some sugar and fat! Asian cuisine uses a balance of these flavors and it seems to satisfy palates enough so that dessert is not needed on day-to-day basis. Fruit after a meal usually satisfies any lingering sweet tooth.

This recipes uses Persian cucumbers, which are especially crispy and delicious. One quick tip when making a cucumber dish is to remove the fleshy seeded part in the middle to prevent excess fluid from entering your dish. The crunchy outer flesh is the more enjoyable part of the cucumber in my opinion. So I usually just  remove the seeds and snack on the middle parts or use them as skin food for my face. =)

Recipe
Serves 10-12
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Marinade time: 2 hours-overnight

1 cup dry quinoa
2 cups water
2 red bell peppers, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1 shallot, finely diced
1 bunch of flat leaf parsley
5 Persian cucumbers, diced
1 can chickpeas, drained
1 tsp Goya Adobo all-purpose seasoning
pepper to taste
juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp Modena white vinegar
6 small avocados (add upon serving)

Directions

Add quinoa and water into a pot and bring to a boil, then reduce to medium low heat. Allow to cook for ~20 minutes until quinoa is translucent and its spirals begin to separate from the grain. Set aside to cool after it is done.

In the meantime, finely dice bell pepper, onion, shallot, and parsley and mix together.

When cutting cucumbers, slice in half length-wise and remove seedy flesh in the middle. Save seedy flesh for skincare or for separate snacking.

Mix chopped up vegetables with lime juice, vinegar, and Goya seasoning. When juicing the lime, try to get some of the oils from the skin out-it intensifies the lemon flavor.

Add garbanzo beans and cooled quinoa and mix well with diced vegetables. Add additional salt and pepper to taste.

Let it sit for at least 2 hours. For best results, let sit overnight.

Serve with fresh avocado. Do not pre-mix avocado into the salad as it will brown.