Som Tam is typically made with a base of green papaya, but it can be made with any unripe fruit, including durian. At the Laplae Durian Festival, the highlight event is the Dancing Durian Salad Competition, where groups backed by live bands compete for best presentation, most enthusiastic dance, and of course best tasting durian salad.
Read more for a video of the Dancing Durian Salad competition and the recipe for Durian Thai Salad.
Som Tam literally means “crushed salad,” because the key is that after everything is grated and mixed together, it is smashed with a mortar and pestle to break down the plant cellulose and really combine the flavors. The ratio of ingredients doesn’t really matter, and there are many variations of this salad using cucumber, grapes, pineapple, eggplant, or water spinach.
In this recipe, unripe durian is used, although I see no reason why ripe durian woudn’t make this dish super tasty. Unripe durian is hard, crunchy, and tastes a bit like almonds. It adds a bit of a nutty undertone to this otherwise light and refreshing salad, and can be used to replace peanuts, if you’re like me and hate peanuts.
Traditional Som Tam also utilizes fish sauce, dried shrimp, and sometimes prawns, fish, or soft-shelled crabs (which are eaten whole, shell included). Since I’m a vegetarian, I’m not a huge fan of fishy-tasting things and have chosen to provide a vegetarian recipe. If you want to try it animals included, just google a Green Papaya Salad recipe and add unripe durian.
Vegetarian Durian Thai Salad
- 2 cups grated cucumber, green papaya, or green mango
- 1/2 cup grated carrot
- 3 tomatoes, sliced into quarters
- 1/3 cup fresh green beans cut into 1-inch sticks
- 1 cup unripe durian, cut or shredded into small pieces
- 2 limes
- 1 or 2 birds eye chillies (if you’re a wimp like me, 1/2 chilli should suffice)
- one medium clove garlic
- 2-3 tbsp of white sugar or if you can get it, palm sugar
- salt to taste
1. Place the chillies and garlic in a mortar and pound until smashed into a paste. If you have no mortar and pestle, chop very finely and smash on the bottom of a bowl with the back of a spoon.
2. Add the sugar and limes and mix into a paste
3. Add the durian chunks and green bean and pound lightly to crush or break into smaller pieces, but not too small
4. Add the rest of the ingredients, and pound into veggies are softened and have absorbed the juice. Again, if you have no mortar, use your hands to knead the salad, squeezing with your fingers to break down