This fiery, strong northern Thai specialty (if it’s made correctly, you will really reek after eating it, but it’s so worth it) has become one of the most popular dishes in Thailand and at Thai restaurants in the States. When I was in Bangkok, I could not walk down the streets or through the markets without at least a dozen offers of Som Tum from the vendors, and it was hard not to stop for a little dish with some grilled meat and sticky rice. You can usually find green, or unripe, papayas and yard-long beans (and the Thai fish sauce called nam pla) at Asian or Latin groceries, but you can also substitute Granny Smith apples for the papaya and Napa cabbage for the beans.
2 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly smashed
1 shallot, minced
2 small fresh chiles, preferably Thai, stemmed, seeded, and minced
2 tablespoons nam pla (fish sauce)
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice, or more to taste
2 teaspoons sugar, or more to taste
1 green (unripe) papaya, peeled, seeded, and shredded
2 or 3 yard-long beans or about a dozen green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths
1 small tomato, cored and cut into eighths
2 tablespoons finely chopped dry-roasted peanuts
Chopped fresh cilantro leaves for garnish
1. Combine the garlic, shallot, and chiles on a cutting board and mince and press with the side of a knife until pasty (or, as is traditional, use a mortar and pestle). Combine in a bowl with the nam pla, lime juice, sugar, papaya, beans, and tomato and mash with the back of a wooden spoon (or a potato masher) until the vegetables are softened and everything is well combined.
2. Taste and adjust the seasoning; the mixture will be hot but may need more nam pla, lime juice, and/or sugar. Garnish with peanuts and cilantro and serve.