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Meat might be the star of the grill, but a good cookout isn't complete without great sides, especially a crisp, refreshing salad. One of my favorite salads to serve alongside grilled steak or spicy kebabs is a green papaya salad, which takes different forms throughout Southeast Asia. The most well-known version here in the States is from Thailand, where it's called som tum.
Som tum can also take many different forms: it can be made with fruit like pineapple, apple, or melon, or vegetables like radish, cabbage, and carrots. There's also seafood som tum with shrimp and crab. Regardless of the specific type, the basic principle of a good som tum is to use a mixture of ingredients that together contribute crunch, sweetness, and tartness, all dressed in a tangy and spicy dressing made with fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, garlic, and chili pepper.
For this recipe, I decided to work with ingredients that you can easily find at any well-stocked supermarket. Instead of using green papaya, which can be difficult to find, I opted for a combination of cabbage, carrot, and green apple, which provide a good balance of crunch, sweetness, and sourness.
Traditionally, Southeast Asian green papaya salads are made in a mortar and pestle, with the pestle used to pulverize dressing ingredients like garlic and gently bruise the papaya itself so it absorbs more of the dressing. Once again, in an attempt to make this recipe as accessible as possible to all home cooks, I've skipped that in favor of some basic knife work to achieve similar results.
For the garlic, that means working it into a paste with the fresh chilies on your cutting board with the help of some kosher salt and the side of the knife (if you're not familiar with that technique, you can also take a look at Daniel's guide to mincing garlic, which has photos demonstrating the "knife-pureeing" method).
Once the garlic is crushed into a puree and the dressing made, the rest of the salad is as simple as tossing everything together. My personal preference is to julienne the carrots, halve the cherry tomatoes, cut the cabbage into bite-size pieces, and thinly slice the apple. Give the cabbage a small head start with the dressing before adding the other ingredients to help the crunchy leaves turn more tender.
When you're ready to serve, sprinkle the salad with roasted peanuts, then set it out and see just how quickly your guests forget all about that meat sizzling on the grill.
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