Eat the Jungle
Papaya, Carica papaya Linn., is a native to South American and Mexico. From there it spread throughout tropical countries like the Hawaiian islands, Sri Lanka, India and Southeast Asia. In Thailand, we regard papaya as a herbaceous plant. The fruit shape is elongated and has a pointy tip. The green fruit is used in savory dishes such as green papaya salad, Gaeng Som (sour curry), Gaeng Kati (red curry), Gaeng Ohm (pork stew), or it is pickled or candied, stir-fried with egg, or used as a vegetable condiment. In our garden, when we want to have a ripe papaya we allow the green papaya to mature on the tree until a good portion of yellow and orange appears on part of its green skin. Then we pick the papayas and keep them covered with a rice sack until they fully ripen. Because the papain protein enzyme helps the digestive system, green papaya salad is an ideal side dish to accompany the grilled meat dishes common to Thai and Vietnamese cuisines—think of green papaya salad instead of coleslaw.
Papaya is a great source for Vitamin A, C, folate and potassium. For an in-depth nutrient analysis please visit whfoods.com.
Thais eat fresh ripe papaya with a squeeze of lime and some sea salt. The seeds have a peppery flavor, but I haven’t come across Thais cooking with the seeds. We discard them, but Hawaiian cuisineuses the seeds in salad dressing.
Papayas at the young and green stage are ideal for Thai, Laotian and Vietnamese cuisines. A few examples include the Thai green papaya salad Som tam which also know as Papaya Pok Pok–a fun name that comes from the sound that is made during preparation when the ingredients are pounded with a mortar and pestle. The Vietnamese movie The Scent of Green Papayaoffers an insight into the relationship of green papaya to Vietnamese cuisine and people. I personally have many stories to share about papayas.
Yield: ½ cup1 shallot, halved and peeled 6 garlic cloves, peeled ¼ cup minced lemongrass, about 1 stalk 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon dry turmeric ½ to 1 tablespoon chili pepper flakes, or 10 to 15 dry Thai red chilies 1 teaspoon shrimp paste or 1 tablespoon miso paste or anchovy paste 1 tablespoon black peppercorns ¼ cup cooking oil
Place everything except the oil in the food processor. While the processor is running, pour in cooking oil as needed. Blend until smooth.
Phuket Jungle Curry with Green Papaya
Gaeng Pa Malakaw Moo
The exotic blend of peppery non-coconut curry with wild vegetables creates the flavor profile inspiration for this dish. I am glad most Thai restaurants carry it on their menus. You may be wary of any spicy Thai curry without coconut milk, but you will be amazed how each vegetable in this curry has it own sweetness when it’s cooked. Individual flavors from each vegetable stand out better than in a coconut curry dish.
Serves 4 to 6 Preparation time: 20 minutes Cooking time: 10 minutes3 tablespoons red curry paste or fresh Jungle Curry paste from recipe above 2 tablespoons canola oil ½ cup water 1 cup diced green papaya, peeled and seeded, about ¼ of a whole small green papaya 1 cup wedged Thai eggplants, about 5 whole Thai eggplants 1 cup yardlong beans or green beans, cut into 1 inch-lengths 1/4 cup sliced pork tenderloin, optional for vegetarian ¼ cup Thai basil or any basil, or 3 nasturtium flowers (optional) 4 Kaffir lime leaves, optional if not available 1 tablespoon palm sugar or brown sugar 2 dashes fish sauce, or more to taste
Blend red curry paste and canola oil in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add water and green papaya chunks, stir, then cover with a lid and let it cook for 3 minutes or until green papaya starts to look half-cooked. Add eggplant, yardlong beans and pork and stir, cover and cook for 3 more minutes until eggplant is soft but not mushy.
Stir in basil, Kaffir lime leaves, and sugar and cook for 30 seconds more; add fish sauce to taste. Remove from heat and serve with Jasmine rice.