The Thai salad repertoire is vast and tam is only one style (yam and laap are probably the other most commonly known outside of Thailand). The word tam means to pound lightly with a pestle and mortar, and som tam is the most familiar example of this type of salad.
Som tum originally hails from the Northeastern Isaan region of Thailand (som means sour in Isaan dialect). At its most basic, som tum features a dressing that typically contains a salty element like fish sauce (or soy sauce), garlic, fresh chilies, and palm sugar. From there the salad can be built on in endless ways. I have a cookbook for 109 som tam recipes, which gives you an idea of the boundlessness of this Thai salad.
This recipe is based on som tam thai, which is the sweet, sour, and spicy version with peanuts that most people are familiar with.
Note how much liquid there is pooling around the salad. This is typical. I suspect Western recipe writers eliminate the excess liquid because of a lack of understanding that the dish isn’t typically eaten on its own, but with sticky rice and fresh vegetables.
Som tam galampom – ส้มตำกะหล่ำปม
Thai kohlrabi salad
- Generous pinch salt
- 1-2 cloves garlic
- 1-3 bird’s eye chillies
- 1 tablespoon palm sugar
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- 2 tablespoons Thai thin soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons roasted peanuts
- Small handful 1-inch pieces of long bean (optional)
- 2-3 cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 scant cup finely julienned kohlrabi
- ¼ cup finely julienned carrot
- Using a wood and clay pestle and mortar, pound the salt, garlic, chillies, and palm sugar into a paste. Some lumps of chili are fine but ensure the palm sugar is dissolved. Add peanuts and pound until light crushed.
- Add lime juice, soy sauce, long bean (if using), and tomato. Pound to smash the vegetables.
- Tip kohlrabi and carrot into the mortar and pound lightly to soften (20-30 seconds).
- If you don’t have a pestle and mortar, mince your garlic and chillies as finely as you can and tip them into a large bowl with the salt, palm sugar, lime juice, and soy sauce. Use the back of a spoon to mash the palm sugar down and stir until dissolved. Roughly chop the peanuts and add. Whack the beans with the side of a heavy knife to flatten a bit. Add to the bowl. Lastly tip in the tomatoes, kohlrabi, and carrot. Knead with your hands until the vegetables go slightly limp.
- Serve with fresh raw vegetables and sticky rice.
- Author: Kip Dorrell
- Serves: 1-2, as part of a larger meal with rice (preferably sticky)
- Cuisine: Thai