Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Green papaya happiness

Remember last Monday, when really bad storms swept over the area? Really bad, as in "call Auntie Em and grab Toto" bad?

Here's where I was: Sitting in my car, waiting it out in a safe spot and happily eating Hmong-style green papaya salad.

I was on my way back from Hickory for today's story about Hmong farmers. I had spent several happy hours tromping around rice paddies and having three-way conversations between my translator, Pahoua Xiong, and women who insisted on filling my arms with so much produce, I could barely hold on to my reporter's notebook.

While Xiong and I were talking about Hmong food and difficulty finding Hmong recipes, which are mostly handed down by word-of-mouth, she told me there is a restaurant in Hickory where you can get Hmong food. It's called Taste of the Orient on 1st Avenue SW, and the sign claims it serves Thai food. But according to Xiong, if you ask, they can point out the Hmong dishes on the menu.

Since Taste of the Orient is closed on Mondays, Xiong took us to a nearby Hmong market, K. Oriental Market on 1st Avenue SW, to get fresh green-papaya salad. Made in a little kitchen on one side of the store, it has shredded green papaya, tamarind paste, lots of lime juice, fish sauce, shrimp paste, sugar, chunks of fresh tomatoes, MSG (Hmong use a lot of MSG but you can ask them to skip it) and plenty of dry-roasted peanuts.

The woman behind the counter pounded the tamarind, limes, sugar and red pepper flakes together in a deep metal bowl, stirred in shredded papaya, stirred it all together and packed it into plastic tubs, all for $3 for small (but still pretty big) or $5 for large (very big).

On the way home, I pulled over in a safe parking lot to wait out the storm. I pulled open the tub of salad, grabbed a fork and picked my way through a delightful lunch. Outside the car, the storm raged and flashed. Inside, I kept myself calm by focusing on how every bite was different - tart papaya, salty fish sauce, fiery chile heat, crunchy peanuts, bite of lime. I made it home just fine.
And well-fed.
Green Papaya Salad
I adapted this from http://www.allrecipes.com/, changing the ingredients to the ones I saw them use at K. Oriental Market in Hickory.
3 cloves garlic, peeled
3 fresh green chile peppers
2 tablespoons tamarind paste
1 large unripe papaya, peeled
1 tomato, seeded and cut in bite-size wedges
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons whole dry-roasted peanuts

Coarsely mash together the garlic, chile peppers and tamarind paste. Shred the papaya into long strips using a box grater or a hand-held shredder and add it to the tamarind mixture.

Mix in the tomato, fish sauce, lime juice, and sugar. Stir well. Stir in the peanuts. Cover, and refrigerate until serving. Can be made a few hours in advance, but it doesn't keep much longer than that.


Anonymous said...

Is justin bieber really a beaver?

Julie @ Willow Bird Baking said...

Sounds delicious! Might have to make the trip to Hickory. I teach 7th grade Language Arts (my dayjob :) and we studied Hmong storycloths the year before last. They've had such a fascinating and challenging history.

Lyns said...

Kathleen -- if you didn't already see it, you would probably enjoy this essay on green papaya salad from Bon Appetit... http://www.bonappetit.com/magazine/2010/05/the_thai_that_binds