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Ready in just 20 minutes, this vegan som tam is an incredibly simple, yet wholly delicious Thai salad made from crunchy vegetables, dressed with a fresh and zingy hot, sour, salty, sweet sauce.
The taste explosion that is som tam (som = sour, tam = pounded) is usually made with shredded green papaya, and often accompanies sticky rice and laab (which is actually a Lao dish). This version, however, was taught to me by my dear friend, Aye (owner of Anchan in Chiang Mai), is made with green mangoes (ma muang), and is popular throughout Northern Thailand.
Prior to Aye’s cooking lesson, many were the times I’d tried to eat som tam in Thailand but without fail, it was always far too spicy for me to be able to eat more than a couple of mouthfuls. Even when I’d ask for it to be phet farang (foreigner spicy, i.e. fit for chilli wimps like me)! I was so pleased when Aye taught me how to make it myself!
Ingredients for vegan som tam ma muang
- Dressing: garlic, bird’s eye chilli, lime juice, all-purpose soy sauce (or tamari if gluten-free), palm sugar, vegan fish sauce
- Salad: unripe mango, red onion, tomato, carrot, cabbage, red pepper, bean sprouts
- Toppings: spring onions, crushed peanuts
As can see, like most Thai dishes, this som tam is made from very simple ingredients, and what you actually put into the salad is inherently customisable.
If you don’t want to use unripe mango, use green apples (e.g. Granny Smith). Or indeed, sour papaya! As long as you have a good balance of crunchy, sweet, and sour, you can customise this as you see fit.
If you want to add more chilli to this som tam then feel free to do so. Even after all these years, I’m still building my tolerance, which means I don’t make this dish anywhere near as hot as Thais do. Even so, this is still a good deal hotter than I was first able to tolerate when we first moved to Thailand in early 2012.
If you can’t find bird’s eye chillies, you can use other evil varieties, such as pequins. Or, if you’re truly wimpish (hello!), use a regular red chilli instead.
How to make som tam ma muang
Traditionally, som tam, as its name suggests, is made in a large clay mortar, called a kruk, with all of the ingredients pounded together. If you want to make it like this, it’s very simple…
– Pound the garlic, and chilli together for a couple of minutes, until they become a paste.
– Leaving the garlic and chilli paste in the mortar, add your cabbage, and gently break up the fibres with the pestle.
– Add the rest of the dressing ingredients and the peanuts, plus the rest of the vegetables, and continue to gently pound, while moving the salad around the mortar to ensure everything receives its fair share of the dressing and garlic. Do this for five minutes or so.
– Pile the som tam onto a couple of plates, drizzle over any dressing left in the mortar, add a little bit of coriander leaf (cilantro), and tuck in.
Alternatively, you could just toss all of the salad ingredients and dressing in a large bowl, top, and serve!
Tips for making som tam
- If you can’t get – or don’t have – coconut palm sugar (sometimes called toddy sugar), you can use jaggery. It’s more than an adequate substitute.
- You can use any crunchy vegetable or sour fruit which holds its texture, colour, and shape, and is OK to eat raw; turnip, swede, banana flower, green papaya (of course) – whatever you want.
Check out some other vegan Thai recipes while you’re here!
You’ll love this vegan som tam ma muang
- laden with colourful veggies
- packed with vitamins
- full of protein and fibre
- good for you
- easy to make
- really, really yummy
Whether you make this using traditional or modern methods or not, and whichever veggies you use, I’m sure that you’ll love this som tam ma muang. Gin hai aroi kha!