Friday, July 15, 2011

Green Papaya Salad... a twist on an inspiration

Isn't in just incredibly frustrating when you go on vacation, try a food that you think is absolutely amazing and then when you crave it six months later, it's located clear across the country? I experienced this frustration last week when I started thinking about this delicious green papaya salad that we had at the Slanted Door when we were in San Francisco last December.

Located in the city's renowned Ferry Building (which conveniently also houses that most incredible farmer's market I've ever seen), the Slanted Door is an Asian Fusion restaurant with a very heavy Thai influence. While our entire meal was great, the fresh crispness of this green papaya salad we had truly stands out in my mind.

When I decided to attempt to recreate the dish, I naturally began by asking my good friend Google to tell me what was in it. Although I found a bounty of reviews on how wonderful the salad was, the recipe has managed to allude publication on the interweb. Once again, I was slightly frustrated, however far from defeated. I may have been working off of a memory from seven months ago, but gosh darn it, I really wanted that salad.

Luckily, I had taken a photo of the salad when we were at the restaurant (yes, I'm a dork who takes more pictures of her food than of her boyfriend) which gave me some visual cues to work off. I knew I needed green papaya (obviously), shredded carrots, celery, cucumber, crushed peanuts and fried tofu strips based on what I could pull out of the photograph. The seasoning and the broth however were completely going to fall on my memory of flavors. Off to the Asian market!

Slanted Door's Green Papaya Salad

I consider myself seriously lucky to have a great Asian market in my town and Boston's Chinatown within a reasonable driving distance. I really have no excuse for not being able to acquire any ingredient I'm looking for when I'm cooking an Asian-inspired dish. This also helps a lot in the realm of inspiration. Sometimes just walking through the market reminds me of being in Japan and I'll find a random sauce or spice that I recognize (and some that I don't) to serve as a springboard for a new dish. Today's revelation... rau ram. It's a Vietnamese-style coriander that gives a fresh citrus, cilantro note. When the shopkeeper described the flavors to me, it sounded like a perfect accompaniment to recreate the refreshing flavors I remembered.

To dress my salad, I opted for a blend of yuzu, soy sauce, fish sauce, lemon juice, sesame and peanut oils and rice wine vinegar. It wasn't a perfect match (the dressing we had in San Francisco was a pale yellow color, mine was a light brown) but the flavors worked well to compliment the crispness of the vegetables.

To make this salad a full meal, I also tweaked the presentation. Rather than serving it as a stand-alone dish, I topped a piece of fresh, steamed black cod with the crunchy mixture to add a protein and texture contrast. 

My Green Papaya Salad w/ Steamed Black Cod

We paired it with a crisp, easy-drinking New Zealand sauvignon blanc from Matua to compliment the brightness of the dish and ensure that none of the flavors would be dulled down. This was definitely an instance where a contrasting pairing would have muddled the salad's profile that I had worked so hard to achieve.

Overall, I'm deeming this experiment a success, even though I wasn't able to recreate the dish exactly. I think I was able to put my own spin on the core flavors of the original and maintain the integrity of what I remembered the salad to be. This is one that's being filed in the recipe catalog.

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