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If you've only ever enjoyed the sweet, juicy flesh of ripe papaya, you might not be familiar with the fruit in its unripened staged. Green papaya flesh has a foamy texture and a mild, almost tasteless flavor. But if you massage shredded green papaya with salt and sugar, a preparation you might also use for daikon or carrots, the papaya flesh becomes sweet and crispy, with a mild, cucumber-like flavor.
Green papaya, which can also be pickled or added to soups, is commonly used for salads in Vietnam and Thailand. Dressed in fish sauce, lime, and chilies, the shreds of papaya are sweet and refreshing. The salad can be as simple or complex as you choose—for a vegetarian salad, stick with other vegetables that also benefit from being dressed in lime and fish sauce, such as carrots, daikon, and cucumbers. Parboiled shrimp and squid are fine additions. Another Vietnamese favorite uses shreds of Asian beef jerky, which softens as it soaks up some of the lime and chili dressing.
The bright, pure flavors of the salad make it a refreshing starter to your meal. Though cilantro and Thai basil are common herbs to pair with the salad, try using any leafy herb growing in your garden.