Green Beans Salad, Somtum style
One night recently I had a sudden urge of a Somtum, Thai-style papaya salad. When I'm in San Francisco, it's easy enough to just zip down to Clement St. and for unripe green papaya, the main ingredient for the salad. Down here in Santa Cruz, on the other hand, it's a bit of a trek over the hill to San Jose.
Not in the mood for the drive, I had to find a suitable alternative, and an idea came to me to use French Haricots Verts beans in place of shredded green papaya. Well, it's not exactly an original idea, I just had the same salad over at my friend Kit's house a while back. She, in turn, got the idea from an old Thai cookbook called "Cooking Thai Food in American Kitchens". The book, which came out in the late '70s, was probably the first book that adapted Thai recipes for the American kitchen. Needless to say it's rather obsolete now, making substitution for things that are by now ubiquitous even in normal supermarkets. But I do have fond memories of trying a few recipes in that book when I first moved to the US and didn't quite know where to find ingredients I needed.
So I made the salad, using thin Haricots Verts from my friend Joe's Dirty Girl farm that I just got. You can use regular green beans for this if you can't find French beans. I don't cook my beans because Joe's Haricots are so young and delicate, and entirely delicious uncooked. If you want to use regular green beans, give them a try first, they might need to be blanched in boiling water to make it just a bit more tender. If you need to pre-blanche the beans, remember to shock the beans in cold ice water immediately after the quick bath in boiling water, to keep the bright green color and prevent the beans from overcooking.
Green Beans Salad, Somtum Style
4oz or 120g of Haricots Verts, as small as you could find (I trim a bit off both ends, but you don't have to)
1/2 tbsp palm sugar (or 1tsp brown or white sugar)
1 small garlic clove
1/3 cup cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp lime juice
1/2 tbsp dried shrimps (optional)
1-2 tbsp peanuts -to taste
1 Birdeye chilli
In a mortar, add dried shrimps and pound until they turn into fluffy flakes, then remove from the mortar and set aside.
Gently crush a small garlic clove in the mortar, then add the haricots verts and peanuts and pound them with the pestle until the haricots verts are bruised and the peanuts lightly crushed.
Sprinkle the sugar, then add fish sauce and lime juice and continue to pound while stirring the content of the mortar until well mixed.
Add one (or only half) birdeye chilli to the mortar and crush lightly, then mix with the rest of the content.
Add the cherry tomatoes to the mortar and crush them lightly. Sprinkle the shrimp flakes and toss well.
Check the seasonings, add lime juice or fish sauce as needed.
P.S. You can make this salad to be entirely vegetarian friendly by skipping the dried shrimp and use Thai light soy sauce in place of the fish sauce.