"Umami bomb" - Som dtam salad with sweet crispy pork

Som dtam; is it really the world’s greatest salad, and if not, what is? And what would you suggest as a good homegrown substitute for green papaya when it is unavailable in your area? all will be revealed....
Despite its apparent simplicity, the magic of those characteristic mixtures of chillies, garlic,roasted peanuts,dried shrimp, lime and fish sauce are surprisingly difficult to replicate at home.In the name of fashionable veganism and veggie trends I have seen so many plagiarisations of this dish on the internet and in magazines ( for example Courgetti som tam salad  not even spelt correctly), being flagged up as if it was something new and making use of that tiresome gadget -the spiralizer.In fact this truly Thai dish when executed correctly, using the correct ingredients, is one of the most loved in the Thai repertoire.Originally street food from the North east of the country, Lao, where their food is hotter and referred to as Issan.It has proved so irresistible that it is now not only eaten throughout Thailand but has become a signature dish for Thai restaurants all over the world.Fermented fish sauce( garam ) is sometimes used to season the dressing rather than  regular Nam pla.I used colatura de alici. After consulting the oracle David Thompson´s "Thai Food" I set myself the challenge of making the dish.
I tested and tasted, tried and deliberated, cogitated and digested,and here are my findings. When you are faced with the urge for Som Dtam like myself and are unable to find proper resources you could on occasion use Granny Smith apples instead of green papaya.Green apples replace the green papaya brilliantly, so Granny Smiths julienned or quartered and very thinly sliced work very well with the sweet/sour nature of the dressing. It worked rather well I thought.You CAN make a similar salad with cucumber, and very good it is too ( you do need to include mint as well), but it is definitely not Som dtam. The texture is entirely different. Courgettes are considered by some to be  a better substitute than cucumbers, but I really don't like limp raw courgette in salads. And it does not hurt to add a few juliennes of carrot in order to get a sweeter take.Green beans are a must for a true Som dtam but raw,as specified I´m not so sure.I blanched the beans, but it is important to refresh them immediately in iced water. They will then retain their crunchiness.
I was thinking that a chayote /chu-chu /choko/ chaku  would be better than a courgette - it'd retain some crunch. Uncooked it tastes like a crisp cucumber without the seeds or bitterness, just the good part, and similar in many ways to green papaya.Whatever you call it chu-chu, chayote ,christophene, xuxu, mirliton, vegetable pear or sayote,and whatever bad press it has got, i think you’ll certainly agree that this vegetable isn’t just delicious, but nutritious too.
Someone compared it to a water chestnut. I don’t agree with that taste-wise, but the crunch is similar.Raw cucumber would be the best analogy. That pretty light green color that a cucumber has just under the skin runs all though the vegetable. While the skin is edible, but you don’t want to eat it any more than you would a cucumber.Anyway so,the great papaya debate aside,green papaya is difficult to source here in the east Algarve so I settled for the Chu-Chu,which I have always been able to  buy in my local supermarket.
"Almost" Som dtam salad with sweet crispy pork
This delicious Thai salad, Som dtam  is like an *umami bomb”waiting to go off,  it combines all four tastes - sour, bitter, sweet and salty, with that all important flavour sensation the "fifth taste".Som dtam  is  balanced sweet and sharp, and crunchy with tomatoes, beans, chillies and those little dried shrimp.
Tomatoes are rich in umami components.
Sweet Soy sauce used to season the pork is also rich in umami components.
Pounded peanuts are a source of novel umami flavour compounds and enhancers
It certainly gives Korean Bibimbap a run for its money.
3 garlic cloves ,peeled
pinch of salt
4-6 birds eye or piri piri chillies(scuds)
1 heaped tablespoon roasted peanuts
Coriander stalks,from a small tender bunch(not standard but amplifies the "fifth taste")
2 tablespoons dried prawns*( shrimp)
4 cherry tomatoes,quartered
6 french beans lightly blanched and cut into 1cm(1/2 in) lengths
1 cup grated Chayote or papaya, if you can get it
2 tbsp palm sugar
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp tamarind water
1-2 tbsp nam pla,fish sauce or colatura de alici (see main text above)
 *I was also unable to source these so I zipped it shrimpy 
   and dry fried some small shrimp in sea salt until crispy
sweet crispy pork
1 cup palm sugar or golden caster sugar
1/2 cup sweet soya sauce (kecap manis)
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
pinch of salt
pinch of ground star anise-optional
200g (6oz) pork neck
oil for deep frying
Prepare the sweet crispy pork a day in advance.Make a syrup by simmering the palm sugar with soya sauce,oyster sauce,salt and star anise(if using)until quite reduced- about 3 minutes.Be careful- the sugar and oyster sauce burn easily.Cool.Slice pork into 5cm x 2cm (2in x 1in) pieces and marinate overnight in the syrup.Dry on a rack for aday until almost dry.
For the salad:pound the garlic with salt and chillies in a pestle and mortar.Add peanuts coriander stalks and dried prawns,and pound to a coarse paste.Add the cherry tomatoes and beans to the mortar and gently bash together.Add the chayote or green papaya and bruise.Season with palm sugar,lime juice,tamarind water and fish sauce.
Deep fry the pork in plenty of oil over a medium heat until mahogany coloured and fragrant.serve alongside the salad.
Coconut rice is also a classic accompaniment to this dish.Wait for the bomb to explode.
a classic example of umami
*Umami (/uˈmɑːmi/, from Japanese: うま味)
Umami means “deliciousness.”or "pleasant savory taste" Beyond sweet, sour, salty, and bitter, the fifth taste of umami is rich and savoury. A word coined by the Japanese, Umami is a powerful force behind many of our food cravings. Umami-rich foods include soy sauce, miso paste and bonito flakes in Asian cuisine; and cured ham, cheese, tomatoes, ketchup and mushrooms in Western cuisine. Backed with a little bit of food-science we analyze ingredients and their flavour profiles to ultimately achieve this sought-after taste.


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