The other evening – on an unseasonably cold and rainy August night – I found myself in Lao Café in Covent Garden, hovering over a bowl of sour pork hot pot so I could better breathe in the steam.
It was my first time trying Lao food, and while there were resonances with various Burmese and Thai dishes I’d enjoyed previously, it was a thrill to taste something new – the flavours huge, pungent, umami-laced and beguiling.
I haven’t stopped thinking about that hot pot, nor the fermented sausages, the pork laab and the papaya salad. I’ve had Thai papaya salad, but the Lao version was funkier, almost inky, made with fermented crab paste, pickled crabs, anchovies and padaek: a thicker, unfiltered fish sauce. I had to try and recreate it at home.
This papaya salad isn’t quite true to that Lao version – crab paste and pickled crabs weren’t available at my local Asian grocery store – but the use of both filtered and unfiltered fish sauce, as well as dried anchovies, gets it close to that territory. Now that the weather is heating up again, it’s the perfect no-cook dinner, a dish best enjoyed during the dog days of summer.
It’s long been said that IPAs are ideal foils for spicy food, but I don’t agree with that blanket assessment. West Coast IPAs, bracing and bitter, often seem to amplify chilli heat. But soft, pillowy New England IPAs are another story – particularly ones with abundant tropical fruit notes. Burlington Beer Company’s Uncanny Valley New England IPA is exactly the right candidate here: Vivid and potent, juicy as a dripping mango, it stands up to the intensity of the papaya salad’s flavours while serving as a quenching chaser for the bird’s eye chillis’ cumulative heat.
I don’t know how long the sun will stick around during the rest of this gloomy summer. But I hope, before it retires for good, you’ll have the chance to try these two together – and perhaps find them as revelatory as I did.
Green Papaya Salad
Serves 4 as a light meal
1 medium green papaya
175g string beans
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2-4 bird’s eye chillis, roughly chopped
1 pinch fine sea salt
1 teaspoon shrimp paste (I used Maepranom brand)
2 tablespoons fermented fish sauce (I used Monika brand)
1 tablespoon fish sauce (I used Red Boat 40° N brand)
1 tablespoon tamarind paste
1 tablespoon demerara or palm sugar
300g cherry tomatoes, divided
Juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons dried anchovies (optional)
Roasted peanuts, to garnish (optional)
1. Peel the papaya and cut in half; remove any seeds that are present. Using a box grater (or the grating function of your food processor), coarsely grate. Transfer to a large bowl of ice water and leave to soak (this ensures the papaya stays fresh and has some bite).
2. Next, top and tail the string beans. Bring a small pot of water to the boil and add the beans; blanch for 2-3 minutes, or until bright green but still crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to the bowl of ice water.
3. Start preparing the dressing. Using a large mortar and pestle (you can also use a blender or food processor for this step, but a mortar and pestle yields the best results), grind together the garlic, chillis and salt until you have a thick paste. Add the shrimp paste and grind until completely incorporated.
4. Next, add both fish sauces (if you can’t find fermented fish sauce, just use additional quantities of standard fish sauce) and gently incorporate. Add the tamarind paste and sugar, and mix to combine.
5. Add roughly a quarter of the cherry tomatoes to the mortar and gently crush with the pestle, slowly incorporating into the sauce. Add the lime juice and mix through. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning if needed.
6. Drain the papaya and green beans and squeeze to dry; transfer to a large bowl. Add the rest of the cherry tomatoes (and the dried anchovies, if using) to the bowl and mix through. Pour over the dressing and, using salad spoons, mix thoroughly until all of the papaya is evenly coated.
7. Transfer to individual bowls or plates, arranging the salad in a tall pile. Garnish with the peanuts, if preferred. Leave to infuse for 10 minutes and then serve.
Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beer hound and all-around lover of tasty things. You can follow her at @clairembullen. For more recipes like this, sign up to our HB&B All Killer No Filler beer subscription - you'll receive Claire's recipe and food pairings, plus expert tasting notes, with 10 world-class beers like this one every month.