Maybe it’s because I live in Northern California in the heart of natural living and organic agriculture but I’m often asked if I’m a vegetarian. Folks, I’m an equal opportunity eater. That means I swing in many directions in terms of my diet. Vietnamese cuisine has an entire repertoire of vegetarian cooking that I’m frankly not adept at. Manipulating wheat gluten is not where I spend most of my time. However, I do okay with preparations like this one, which is nothing but a vegan riff on Vietnamese green papaya salad with beef jerky.
As you know from recent postings, I had some shredded green papaya and carrot leftover from test driving the kom kom miracle shredder tool. Also, there’s pressed tofu in my fridge from the stir-fry with Chinese celery. Thin slices of meaty pressed tofu (see the pressed tofu stir-fried with Chinese celery recipe for buying information) stand in for the beef jerky. The overall flavors were a little lean so I added roasted peanuts for richness. To save time, prep the vegetables and tofu a day in advance and toss everything right before serving. Cut the Thai basil about 1/4 inch wide so they add super pungent notes in each bite.
The soy based dressing is heartier than the usual lime and fish sauce combination, but it goes well with the tofu and stands up to the assertiveness of the basil. Serve the dressing on the side (as pictured above) if you want to preserve the beauty of the salad for your guests.
Remember that a green papaya is nothing but an unripe papaya. If the flesh is slightly yellow, that's okay. It just needs to be firm. The best place to shop for green papaya is at a Chinese or Southeast Asian market.
Vegan Green Papaya Salad with Thai Basil
Gỏi Đu Đủ Chay
Serves 4 to 6
2 tablespoons regular (light) soy sauce
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons Homemade Chile Garlic Sauce or store bought Sriracha hot chili sauce
1 (1 1/2 pound) green papaya
1 small carrot
3/4 teaspoon sugar
Generous 1 teaspoon salt
6 ounces brown pressed tofu, cut into matchsticks
1/4 cup Thai basil or regular basil leaves, cut into ribbons
1/3 cup unsalted roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
1. For the dressing, combine all of the ingredients, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Set aside to develop the flavors.
2. Peel the papaya with a vegetable peeler and then shred it into thin strands about 1/16 inch thick, no more than 3/16 inch wide, and about 3 inches long. Keep the papaya whole if using a shredder such as the Kom Kom Miracle. To shred using a food processor, halve the peeled papaya lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop out and discard the seeds. Cut each half lengthwise into quarters, and then use a knife or melon baller to remove the thin white layer lining the cavity. Put the largest shredder blade (as for mozzarella you’d use for pizza) in place in the food processor and shred the papaya pieces. A Japanese or western mandoline can be used to shred the papaya too. Regardless of method, put the pale green strands of papaya into a colander and set aside.
3. Shred the carrot and add to the papaya.
4. Add the sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt, and use both hands to massage the sugar and salt vigorously into the vegetables. After a few minutes, the vegetables will be a little slimy and limp yet still firm. At that point, rinse them under lots of cold running water to remove the salt and sugar.
5. Working in batches, wring out excess moisture from the papaya and carrot in a nonterry dish towel: position a mound of the vegetables in the center, roll it up in the towel, and then twist the ends in opposite directions to force out the liquid. Do this 3 or 4 times. You want to extract enough water from the vegetables yet not completely crush it. Transfer to a large bowl and fluff up.
6. Just before serving, add the tofu, Thai basil, and peanuts to the green papaya carrot and toss to distribute evenly. Toss with 3/4 of dressing, taste add add extra dressing as necessary. Transfer to a serving plate, creating a tangly pile and leaving extra dressing behind. You can also serve the salad untossed and have guests add dressing to their taste.