Did you ever think you could use papaya in a curry? As far as I can remember, I was introduced to the Thai green papaya sour curry at my kindergarten school. Yes, kindergarten! Sounds crazy and amazing at the same time, doesn't it? Of course, it wasn't spicy spicy and I can see why the school wanted to include this curry in their lunches. First of all, the sour curry is one of the healthiest Thai curries. You get fiber from the papaya and protein from the shrimp. There's no coconut cream in it, so not a lot of fat. Also, this curry has all the flavors to get kids excited about their meal. While it's predominantly sour, this curry is a mix of salty, sour, and sweet, which I think is quite an interesting taste for children.
In Thailand, we eat the green papaya sour curry with rice, and more often than not, it's paired with Thai-style omelette or Thai sun-dried salted beef. The sour curry is especially good with something fried and on the saltier side. This basically defeats everything healthy about the dish. 🤣🤣 But nah, if you stick to just rice and sour curry, you'll be absolutely fine. You might want to use more shrimp than I use in the recipe below to make it more filling.
Thai Sour Curry Paste
Moving on to the fun part, which is the curry paste! Though we don't always make a paste for every curry we make at home, the Thai sour curry paste is one my mom always makes by herself. In other words, we don't ever buy the ready-made paste for this curry. For one thing, it's not as good. I remember getting a powder version once when I was living abroad. And although it was better than nothing, I have to admit it wasn't great at all.
And once you see how easy it is to make the paste, you won't question why. The paste is basically a blend of dried chillies, shallots, fermented shrimp paste, fingerroot, and cooked shrimp or fish. If you don't live in Thailand, your only problem might be finding the ingredients needed. If you can find them, definitely go for the homemade version!
While some people like their paste smooth, I prefer it a little coarse because I think it helps me get the curry consistency I like. No, this curry isn't supposed to be thick. At the same time, it shouldn't be as runny or transparent as water either. If you've never made this curry before, maybe try it coarse first and see if you like it.
Tamarind Juice in Thai Cooking
The next thing I want to talk about is the tamarind juice, in case you're not familiar with it. We use tamarind juice in many Thai dishes. Take pad Thai, somtam (papaya salad), stir-fried tamarind shrimp, or even tom yum for example. Basically we can buy dried tamarind pods from markets. These are the sour variety and they add tartness to food.
You might wonder why we don't use limes for this curry. Despite the fact that the lime scent is amazing, it's not right for every dish. Also, lime juice is very runny. If you're looking to make a sweet and sour sauce or something that has more of a texture to it, limes are probably not the best choice. Another reason is, to reach the same level of tartness, you need a smaller amount of tamaraind juice than lime juice. Believe it or not, limes can get as expensive as 5 baht each in the Summer. This is why we sometimes use tamarind juice in tom yum as well.
Lastly, I'd like to talk a little bit about how to slice the green papaya. Basically the pieces don't need to look neat or be exactly the same size. On one hand, you want to make sure that it's not too thick because that won't be nice when you eat it. On the other hand, you don't want it to be too thin because it'll easily break when cooked or reheated --- not good either. I took a picture of my raw green papaya and hope you can use it as a reference. 🙂
And that's all I have to tell you about the Thai green papaya sour curry! Oh wait, did I say it's easy to make? I did? Well, please try this recipe. I'm sure you'll love it!!!
Thai Green Papaya Sour Curry | Kaeng Som Recipe
For the paste
- 15 dried chilies 5 large and 10 small, or 10 large
- 3 shallots peeled
- 3 fingers fingerroot grachai, chopped
- 1 teaspoon fermented shrimp paste gapi
- 1 shrimp peeled and deveined
For the curry
- 1.25 liter water
- 4-5 dried tamarind pods or 6 tablespoons tamarind juice
- 1 green papaya about 0.4-0.5 kg, peeled and sliced
- 5 tablespoons fish sauce
- 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 shrimp peeled and deveined
- Add 11⁄4 liter of water to a pot and bring to a simmer.
- Cook 1 shimp in the water. Remove the shrimp from the pot with a slotted spoon and turn off the heat for now.
- To the blender, add dried chillies, shallots, fingerroot, fermented shrim paste, cooked shrimp, about 1⁄4 cup of water and blend until a little coarse. Set aside.
- Make tamarind juice by placing dried tamarind pods in a bowl and adding about ½ cup of water to it. Massage the tamarind pods in the water until you get tamarind juice. Note that the tamarind juice shouldn't be runny.
- Turn the heat back on and bring the pot to a boil.
- To the pot, add the curry paste, 6 tablespoons of tamarind juice, fish sauce, sugar, and stir to dissolve.
- Add the green papaya and cook for about 5-10 minutes.
- Add the shrimp and cook until done. Taste the curry and adjust seasoning as needed.
- Remove from heat and serve with rice.
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