Have you ever heard of yum pak wan (ยำผักหวาน) before? If not, come in closer, you're missing out BIG TIME and you'll want to know all about this super easy, healthy and nutritious spicy Thai salad!
Before writing this post, I didn't know what 'pak wan' was called in English because I'd never had to talk about it to anyone. Now that I'm writing this post, I had to turn to my best buds - Google and Wikipedia - just so you guys know what I'm on about.
Here's what I found: The leafy green vegetable you see in the photos in this post can either be called sweet leaf, katuk, star gooseberry or sauropus androgynus. Almost all the names sound fine, except for auropus androgynus, don't you think? Not that it's wrong, but if I have to call my food that...I might as well not eat it so I can avoid saying and spelling it altogether 😂😂 Why have I chosen to call this vegetable sweet leaf, you might ask. That's because it has a similar meaning to what we call it in Thai, as 'pak' means vegetable and 'wan' means sweet.
Now this Thai spicy sweet leaf salad or yum pak wan is a dish you'll most likely see on the menu at Thai restaurants IN Thailand. I had to emphasize this as sweet leaf is mostly grown in tropical regions. Although many countries import fruit and vegetables, I don't think sweet leaf, let alone yum pak wan, has quite caught the international attention it deserves.
If you live in Thailand, you'll almost always find sweet leaf at your nearest local market, but rarely supermarket. This vegetable is sold in bags. It's usually 20-25 baht a bag (about 200 grams) and you can make about 2 salads with it. AMAZING THAILAND!
How To Prepare Sweet Leaf for Thai Spicy Sweet Leaf Salad or Yum Pak Wan
When you buy sweet leaf, you'll get just tips which are the part we eat, but you can't use them right away because a lot of farms here are kinda naughty and they don't stop at the edible part of the tip when they harvest this vegetable. They go further down in to the shoot for the weight and that part is a no no for any dishes because it's too chewy.
So, to properly prepare sweet leaf, simply rinse and use your hand to break each tip into bite-size pieces and stop when it starts to become difficult to break and discard the rest of the tip (yes, you'll end up with a little less vegetable than you bought). Then you'll have to cook this vegetable in boiling water for about 1 minute before you can eat it.
Apart from the greens, the other 2 ingredients this salad requires are cooked shrimp and sliced shallots. I'm using some jumbo shrimp here but feel free to use any size and as many as you want and just cook it in the water your cooked your sweet leaf in.
For the dressing, get your mortar and pestle out, ladies and gentlemen because we're about to start pounding AWAY AY AY AY AY AY! Here you want to pound the garlic and chilies into a coarse paste first. Then you add the lime juice, fish sauce and sugar and continue to pound to mix, making sure you fully dissolve the sugar. Your last step is to taste the dressing. If it's missing something, adjust as needed.
And there you should have it - your homemade Thai sweet leaf spicy salad or yum pak wan! I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do. If you live in a different part of the world, let me know if they have sweet leaf in your local Asian grocery store!
Spicy Thai Sweet Leaf Salad | Yum Pak Wan Recipe
For The Salad
- 200 grams sweet leaf
- 5 shallots peeled and sliced
- 2 jumbo shrimp or 10-12 medium ones peeled and deveined
For The Dressing
- 5 cloves garlic
- 10 red bird's eye chilies
- 4½ tablespoons lime juice
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1½ tablespoons sugar
- Bring a pot of water to a boil. Make sure you add enough water to cook the shrimp and the sweet leaf.
- Prepare the sweet leaf by rinsing and hand-breaking each shoot tip into bite-size pieces, starting from the very top. Once you get to the point where the shoot is hard to break, stop there and discard the rest of the shoot (if it's hard to break it'll be too chewy and unpleasant in the salad). Set aside.
- Coarsely pound the garlic and chilies in a mortar. Add lime juice, fish sauce and sugar and pound until well mixed, making sure the sugar is fully dissolved. Taste-test the dressing and adjust as needed.
- Once the water is boiling cook the sweet leaf in the water for about 1 minute and transfer to a large mixing bowl with a slotted spoon. Do the same with the shrimp but take 2-3 minutes this time.
- Add the sliced shallots to the mixing bowl. Pour the salad dressing over and toss.
- Split the salad into 2 dishes and serve.
- This salad is perfect as a meal but you can also enjoy it with steamed rice.
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