Papaya salad, well, Vegan Papaya Salad in our case, sums up the taste of Thailand – in my opinion. It’s fresh, zesty, zingy, spicy and basically a pure taste sensation. Plus, it only takes 15 minutes to make! It's oil free, gluten free yet full of flavour, and doesn't require any cooking. It really takes me back to all the time we’ve spent in Thailand.
What is Vegan Papaya Salad?
Vegan Papaya Salad is a cruelty-free version of the Thai classic, spicy green papaya salad, AKA Som Tam. However, originally it was from Laos, and it was called Tam Som. This translates to ‘pounding sour ingredients’.
The dish actually dates back to the late 18th or early 19th century – if that kind of fact interests you. It was taken to Northeastern Thailand when a railway opened connecting with Laos. That’s when it became known as Som Tam, and really cemented itself into Thai culture. We have no idea why the name was changed though! Do you?
It’s kind of weird to think that when we eat a dish with such a rich history, there must’ve been so many versions to come before this one, just a quick Google search proves that! And even though there will be many other vegan versions out there, we’re pretty pleased to add ours to the list, and add to its journey. We’re food nerds, right?
Did you know that Som Tam is actually one of the spiciest Thai dishes? It can include up to 30 Thai green chillies, but don’t worry – we won’t suggest adding that many! But if you are up to the challenge, let us know how many chillies you add in the comments. Maybe we’ll send a prize to whoever uses the most!
This salad is:
What ingredients do you need?
You’ll probably be pleased to read that there’s only 10 ingredients in this recipe, so it really is super easy.
This is what you will need:
Green Thai chillies
Sugar (coconut, palm or brown)
Papaya (or cabbage)
Vegan fish sauce (or soy sauce or tamari)
Now, you’ll see that we’ve said that cabbage can be used instead of green papaya. Green papaya is hard to find in the UK and can be very expensive. You can easily just switch out the green papaya for cabbage. As you can see in our photos, we’ve actually omitted the papaya, but it’s still just as delicious, fresh and tasty. We've still captured the essence of the salad!
How to make this salad
It’s so easy to make this salad! You’ll just need a pestle and mortar, two bowls – one big, one small, and 15 minutes.
Here’s a simple breakdown of the steps to make this salad, but of course more detailed instructions are featured down below in the recipe card.
First of all, prepare all the veggies. Chop the beans into 1 inch pieces, grate the carrot and slice the cabbage. Also chop the tomatoes into eighths – no smaller as there should be quite big bits of tomato in this dish.
Put the cabbage and carrot into the large bowl, set aside. In your pestle and mortar, add the sugar, chillies and garlic. Pound until the ingredients form a rough paste (like in the photo below).
Then add the tomatoes and green beans to the mortar, and put this in with the carrot and cabbage in the big bowl. If you're unsure how much to bash, just check out the recipe video in the recipe card.
Pro Tip: if your pestle and mortar isn’t big enough, you can empty out the first bit of the rough paste into the bowl, and then add the rest of the ingredients into the mortar. Pound with the pestle and then add to the bowl. Do this until all the ingredients have been smashed. You alternatively could use a makeshift pestle and mortar – a big bowl and a rolling pin, but this method isn’t the best option.
Once that’s done, it’s just a matter of adding the rest of the papaya salad sauce, and the peanuts.
How to make papaya salad sauce
It’s so easy, you don’t even need a separate bowl or container. Just put the lime juice and vegan fish sauce directly into the bowl with the carrot, cabbage and other ingredients.
If you don’t have vegan fish sauce, you can use soy sauce or tamari instead. If you use tamari the salad will remain gluten free. Soy sauce contains gluten.
Once you've put the papaya salad sauce into the bowl, just mix everything together really well, and add the peanuts too. Then you’re done! Top with extra peanuts and lime as a garnish, if you’re feeling fancy…
Vegan Papaya Salad FAQs
Vegan papaya salad is full of fresh, crunchy veggies and just a few low fat, low calorie ingredients make up the sauce. So, in our opinion, it’s super healthy!
It’s oil-free, has zero saturated fat (e.g. there’s no coconut milk which is common in Thai food and is high in saturated fat) and because it’s vegan, it’s cholesterol-free too! As always, we would remind ourselves that we’re not qualified dieticians or nutritionists, but we think most people would call this a healthy salad.
It might seem strange that papaya salad isn’t usually vegan – it’s just fresh veggies right?! Right, well actually, wrong. In Thai cooking ingredients like fish sauce and shrimp paste are used as flavour enhancers.
That means that seemingly veggie or vegan dishes might not actually be veggie or vegan. We learned all about key Thai ingredients at cookery classes in Thailand, which is how we know the best replacements to use.
We’re all about making a traditional dish that’s also vegan, and as you may know if you’ve been reading our blog for a while – we never compromise on flavour! So, we have chosen to not use anything in place of the shrimp paste. And we’ve used vegan fish sauce (or soy/tamari) in place of the fish sauce.
We actually couldn’t find any papaya when developing this recipe. And as we’ve been living under lockdown for the last few months, we decided not to go out around numerous supermarkets looking for it.
We’ve made this dish at a number of cookery classes both in Thailand and the UK, so we know what the foundations of the flavours should be, even if there’s no papaya included.
If you do manage to find green papaya, it will be delicious, fresh and crunchy.
We wouldn’t recommend using ripe papaya. Ripe and unripe papaya have completely different tastes and textures.
Ripe papaya is a lot more fruit-like and sweet, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, but it would take the dish in a completely different direction. Try and stick to green papaya or cabbage – Chinese, Savoy or White, all work perfectly.
Equipment for making this recipe
Pestle and Mortar – pestle and mortars are so much fun! For this recipe, it’s best to use one that’s on the larger side. The one recommended below is great quality and 16cm in diameter, which should be big enough for all of the ingredients to go in at once.
We usually say that a blender is a viable alternative for making things like Thai curry pastes. However, in this case, the ingredients need to be pounded into a rough paste, so we wouldn’t recommend using a blender.
Grater – the carrot will need to be grated for this recipe. Roughly chopping it just won’t allow for the distribution needed. Alternatively you could use a mandolin for the papaya (if using) or a nicer dicer, which has a tub underneath for the grated food to be collected in.
Nicer Dicer – a nicer dicer is a nifty invention that makes chopping or grating vegetables easier. You can get consistent shapes and sizes that you just can’t get with a knife, well – without years of practicing, that is. It can also go in the dishwasher and comes with many parts so you can juice lemons and limes, as well as easily cube up or julienne veggies! Plus, they last for ages and are very cost efficient.
If you love Thai food as much as us, learn how to make the best vegan Thai food in our guide. We’re always adding to it, so be sure to bookmark it to refer to later!
We've included a simple yet helpful video in the recipe card below. We hope you find this useful!
Did you make this recipe? Leave a review and a rating below, or tag us in your photos on Instagram! Alternatively, bookmark it in your browser or save to Pinterest for later.
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Vegan Papaya Salad in 15 minutes
3 Thai green chillies
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon brown sugar or coconut sugar
2 large salad tomatoes
75 g green beans
300 g green papaya or cabbage
400 g carrots
2 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoon vegan fish sauce or soy sauce/tamari
100 g peanuts unsalted
First of all, prepare all the veggies. Chop the beans into 1 inch pieces, grate the carrot and papaya (or slice the cabbage if you're not using papaya). Also chop the tomatoes into eighths.
Put the papaya (or cabbage) and carrot into a large bowl, then set aside.300 g green papaya, 400 g carrots
In a pestle and mortar, add the sugar, chillies and garlic. Pound until the ingredients form a rough paste.3 Thai green chillies, 2 cloves garlic, 1 tablespoon brown sugar
Add the tomatoes and green beans and continue to bash.75 g green beans, 2 large salad tomatoes
Put the rough paste in with the carrot and papaya/cabbage in the big bowl.400 g carrots, 300 g green papaya
Squeeze the lime juice and pour vegan fish sauce (or soy/tamari) into the bowl with the carrot, cabbage and paste.2 tablespoon lime juice, 2 tablespoon vegan fish sauce
Finally, pop the peanuts in and mix together until thoroughly combined.100 g peanuts
Serve with a wedge of lime, crushed peanuts and extra chilli – if you dare!
You can use green papaya, if you can find it, or cabbage. We think white, Chinese and savoy work well.
If you don't have vegan fish sauce, replace with soy sauce or tamari. If using tamari it will still be gluten free.
Don't use a ripe papaya, as it is completely different in both taste and texture to unripe papaya.
Add more chillies if you like! Green Thai chillies are very spicy, despite their size. We often use three, but be warned, they are pretty hot...