Samui Wining & Dining
Spicy Salads

Thai salads blend sugar and spice and all things nice.

 

17Green curry, red curry, yellow curry…. perhaps a pad Thai. The average tourists’ diet while on Samui reads much like a menu of clichéd Thai dishes. That’s not to say that those dishes aren’t delicious, you shouldn’t have them, nor that the locals don’t eat them, rather, it’s simply to suggest that perhaps a few of your meals could be spent expanding your culinary repertoire of the local cuisine.

    And lunchtime fare doesn’t get much better than a mouth tingling, super-healthy Thai salad. They look very different to what many people consider a ‘salad’ to be. To start with, there aren’t even any leaves or lettuce. Nor any oil in the dressing. And many aren’t even green. No, these guys are a whole different kettle of fish.

      What they do incorporate are an array of invigorating ingredients that will wake your mouth, and you for that matter, right up. They make a wonderfully tasty meal that’s satisfying and healthy too. Often served alongside barbecued meat, dipping sauces and sticky rice, going for a Thai salad ends up being much like a Thai version of Spanish tapas.

       Somtam is arguably the most famous of the Thai salads, and usually the spiciest too. Shredded strips of green papaya are combined with green beans, garlic, cherry tomatoes, dried shrimp and peanuts, all pounded together with a dressing of lime juice, fish sauce and palm sugar – oh, and a couple of chillies don’t forget. Green papaya is just an unripe papaya, and the reason for using it at this stage is because the flesh is firm and sour, thus making it a savoury dish rather than a sweet one – this is nothing like a fruit salad that you’d get for a dessert.

        Some people use a special scraper to create the strips of papaya. It looks much like a potato peeler, except it has a serrated blade instead of a straight one. After peeling the skin off the fruit you scrape this tool over the flesh to cut off uniform strips, and these make up the base of the salad. The traditional method, however, involves hacking a knife into the side of the fruit to create vertical incisions that can be shaved away to create strips, and this way the pieces are all slightly different sizes – true somtam fanatics much prefer this traditional method for the more interesting texture and increased crunchiness it provides.

      The two most popular types of papaya salad are the aforementioned shrimp one, and one that incorporates salted crab. The shrimp one is very salty and spicy whereas the crab version is sweeter.

      If you like the papaya salad, you’ll probably like the green mango salad too. Its appearance is fairly similar to the papaya salad, in the sense that the mango pieces are shredded into strips, but the taste is a little sweeter. Unripe mangos are used in this recipe too, and the sourness is offset by deliciously sweet palm sugar, which is added to the sauce made from fish sauce and lime juice. But it’s not all about fruit in Thai salads – there are vegetable based ones too. Green bean salad is a popular one, for example. Beans are slices into one-inch segments and then pummelled in the pestle and mortar, just enough so that they are bruised and softened, but not so much that they lose their shape.

      Many Thai restaurants all over the world serve Thai beef salad. And part of the reason for its international popularity is because it incorporates a lot of savoury ingredients that the Western palate is accustomed to – onions, tomatoes, cucumber, and of course beef. The meat is fried and then thinly sliced and coated in chilli paste for tenderness and flavour.

      Another meaty salad is larb. Incorporating ground pork (or other meats) alongside liver pieces and shopped shallots, this is the only salad where vegetables do not form the base. The meat is coated in ground, toasted rice, which adds a nutty flavour and helps to draw out excess moisture from the pork. After being combined with fresh, chopped mint leaves, chilli, lime juice and fish sauce, this dish is served alongside sticky rice, cabbage and green beans.

      There are many variations of a Thai seafood salad, but most incorporate prawns and squid, and some scallops and mussels as well. Along with ample fresh seafood are cold glass noodles, which add an interesting, slippery texture. Added to the mixture, uniquely, is thinly sliced lemon-grass, which makes this salad an extra zingy one.

      As you’ve probably noticed, the primary ingredients that make up the sauce for the bulk of these Thai salads are fish sauce, lime juice and palm sugar – although there are many variations around that general framework. Palm sugar has gained a lot of notoriety in recent years for its health benefits. It’s immensely popular amongst health fanatics as an alternative to sugar and artificial sweeteners because of its impressively low Glycaemic Index (GI). The GI measures how rapidly a particular carbohydrate turns into sugar – meaning the lower the GI, the better it is for you. 55 or less is considered a low GI, medium being between 56 and 69, and 70 or more is high. Palm sugar comes in at a cool 35, whereas standard glucose has a whopping 100!

      The wide variety of Thai salads means you can try a different one each day of your holiday and still be surprised and impressed. And best of all, not only are they immensely tasty, they are also healthy beyond compare, not to mention filling too. They are certainly a fantastic addition to any discerning tourist’s culinary repertoire.

 

Christina Wylie

 

 


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