Green Papaya Salad (Nom Xoai Xanh)

We visited Vietnam last year. I think it’s one of those places that does not leave you indifferent on many levels. The clash of modernisation with colonial vestiges from Chinese, French and even American influences and the native culture are sometimes perplexing. One example is that we were driven from the Hanoi airport to our hotel in a car that had wifi onboard, while on the side of the main highway, we drove past people with traditional clothing – and yes, the Vietnamese hat – working on the rice fields, had to avoid cattle crossing the road, and nearly missed a few accidents with mopeds carrying two, three people and sometimes even a whole dining room table! To see a glimpse of our time in this beautiful country, please view my travel log on Vietnam.

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This incredible experience, from which I learned a lot about human history and how things are perceived depending on whose perspective we are looking upon something (French and Americans are called invaders in northern Vietnam, and the Chinese are also considered such but on a different level) left me with a lasting impression and a need to return that I hope to fulfill one day.

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Part of the richness of our adventurous time in Vietnam was trying all the delicious food available and visiting the markets. Breakfast in the Asian countries I’ve visited consists mostly of a warm soup, such as Vietnamese Pho. Hanoi came to life each day we were there with everyone preparing and eating Pho or some other form of street food, while the shops slowly but energetically opened up, women balancing baskets on their shoulders headed to the market or were selling their wares on the street, and the silence of the night was thoroughly disrupted by an incessant noise that lasts until very late in the evening.

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(grating the green papaya with the kitchen utensil that the Hanoi Cooking Centre gave me)

(Vietnam, although a one-party Communist country, is one of Asia’s fastest growing economies. In fact, if you were unaware of the political regime, you would think you are in a Capitalist nation, since it seems that everyone owns their own shop. Stores occupy the bottom part of almost every building in Hanoi and even in many areas of the countryside.)

Pho is one thing I need to make at home, but haven’t yet because I need to find a butcher that will sell me really good quality, grass-fed beef and have it very thinly sliced. I plan a visit to the London Borough Market soon… so I’ll be shopping for my ingredients, making Pho and sharing the recipe with all of you.

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Ah.. the recipe! Well, while in Hanoi, I took a cookery course with the Hanoi Cooking Centre. I had just started my blog and had never done anything like this, while on vacation. So, the idea was exciting and intriguing. I took a taxi to the school from our hotel, thinking I couldn’t manage the streets… one must cross the street through traffic! It turns out it’s not as hard as it first seems, although a bit nerve-wracking for the newcomer, and I ended up walking back to my hotel after the course.

The course I took was called “Street Food”. And since taking it, I’ve had on my agenda making all of the recipes.. but haven’t gotten around to it until now. However, I’ve made great use of the grater the school so kindly gave me!

Some of the ingredients are not easy to find, such as good quality green papaya or banana blossom. I bought a banana blossom sometime last year at an Indian store, but was thoroughly disappointed when I cut into it and it was rotting. ;(

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(these are the dried, salted anchovies that I used)

But on our excursion to the Asian market this past week, we found green papaya and a whole plethora of other goodies! Therefore the first recipe I share with you from our Vietnamese adventure is Green Papaya Salad. I made a few alterations to keep it Paleo (no sugar and no peanuts) and added a couple of ingredients of my own, such as pomegranate seeds and created my own “fish sauce”.

I hope you enjoy!

Green Papaya Salad (Nom Xoai Xanh)
Recipe Type: Salad
Cuisine: Vietnamese
Author: The Saffron Girl
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • For Salad:
  • 1 green papaya (pawpaw), peeled and grated or spiralised
  • 2 green onions, finely sliced julienne style
  • 1 long Vietnamese chili, seeds removed and finely chopped (be careful they are very hot, so it’s wise to use some sort of gloves)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or cut julienne style
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
  • seeds of one pomegranate
  • 3 tablespoons cashews, roasted and crushed*
  • 1 small red onion, very finely sliced
  • 1 tablespoon arrowroot powder
  • olive oil or other fat for frying
  • Dressing:
  • 1 tablespoon coconut sugar
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons dried, salted anchovies or dried shrimp, fried
Instructions
  1. Peel the green papaya and with a spiraliser or grater, grate all of it until you’re getting close to the seeds. Place in a large bowl.
  2. Add the sliced green onions, the minced garlic, the Vietnamese chili, cilantro leaves, and pomegranate seeds. Toss and set aside.
  3. In a pan, add about 1 tablespoon of coconut oil over low heat.
  4. Fry the cashews until golden brown. Scoop them out and place on a plate with paper towels to soak up any extra fat.
  5. In the same remaining oil, fry the dried anchovies or shrimp. Scoop them out and also place on a plate with paper towels to soak up the extra fat and stay crispy.
  6. Clean the pan, when slightly cooled, with a paper towel and add new coconut oil or olive oil, enough to “deep fry” the sliced onion. Heat over medium heat.
  7. In a medium bowl, coat the sliced onion pieces with the arrowroot powder. Dust off any extra arrowroot powder with your hands.
  8. Once the oil is hot, carefully place the floured onions into the pan. Make sure to separate them before putting them in, or they’ll clump up.
  9. Allow to fry on one side before stirring/flipping to fry on the other side. (If you have a deep fryer, it’s easier to use that than a pan.)
  10. Scoop out of the pan and place on another plate with paper towels. Set aside and turn the oil off.
  11. In a mortar, place the fried anchovies/shrimp and grind with the pestle.
  12. Add the lime juice and coconut sugar and mix well. Set aside.
  13. Place the cashews on a flat surface, such as your counter top, and with the back side of a bowl, press into them, breaking them up into pieces. Scoop them up and place into a bowl. Set aside.
  14. When you’re ready to serve the salad:
  15. Toss the papaya mixture with the dressing and cashew pieces.
  16. Serve in individual plates or a large bowl and top with the fried onion pieces.