Thai food has to be my favorite by far. There’s no other cuisine that offers so much dramatic contrast and packs a punch of flavor with an incredible balance between spicy, sweet, salty and pungent, with that extra-special umami element.
Most people are familiar with Thai dishes such as their noodles – the most famous being Pad Thai – and curries such as Green, Red, Yellow, Penang and Massaman. And I admit that when I traveled to Thailand I couldn’t resist trying a few of these dishes. (My favorite was the Penang curry).
But you may not realize that Thai cuisine also features fantastic salads of many different varieties; something which is fairly unique among Asian countries where, for the most part, foods are generally cooked.
Thai salads are fresh and light and often contain a combination of raw fruits and vegetables, with other ingredients such as nuts like cashews or peanuts. Other additions may include glass noodles, shrimp, chicken, beef or unusual items such as banana flowers, pomelo and wing beans.
One of my absolute favorite Thai salads is the green mango salad. While green papaya is also delicious, I prefer the flavor of green mangoes, which are very distinctive with somewhat floral notes. Green mangoes also take better to a richer dressing than papayas, which benefit from a more subtle approach.
The usual base dressing for a Thai salad includes lots of fish sauce and sugar with spices such as garlic and fresh or dried chillies and fresh herbs.
In this recipe I use tamari to give the salty and umami taste that would normally come from fish sauce. Raw coconut sugar gives an authentic Thai flavor and adds a richness to the dressing that I prefer in comparison to a more neutral sweetener such as agave.
For the spicy element I like Thai Kitchen red curry paste because it has a combination of Thai spices, adding more complexity to the dressing than simply using plain chili.
Jungle peanuts add a delicious contrast of flavor and texture, while adding protein and fat to the dish, making it more satisfying.
Thai Green Mango Salad with Jungle Peanuts
2 green mangoes
3 tablespoons tamari
4 tablespoons coconut sugar
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon red curry paste ( I prefer Thai Kitchen brand)
1 cup cilantro, chopped fine
Handful of jungle peanuts
The first step is to julienne your green mangoes. You want to select mangoes that are very hard for this recipe. Peel the mangoes then slice them.
Cut the slices into a fine julienne. You should end up with something that looks like this.
To make the dressing, combine the remaining ingredients, except the cilantro and jungle peanuts, in a small bowl and whisk together. Taste the dressing and check the balance of flavors. If you want more sweetness add extra coconut sugar or stevia. If it needs more spice add more curry paste or fresh chili.
Remember that this dressing will lose some of its intensity when you add it to the salad so the flavors should be stronger than how you would like the final dish to taste. As is, this dressing is not very spicy, so if you like the heat I definitely recommend adding some extra spice.
Add the dressing to the mangoes and toss to combine well. Next add the chopped cilantro and toss again.
To complete the meal I topped it with some jungle peanuts.
These ancient, heirloom nuts are hand planted and harvested in the Amazon jungle. They are free of aflotoxins – toxic substances made by molds – that are found on commercially produced peanuts.
Jungle peanuts are raw and contain 25% protein, which is higher than any other variety of nut. They are also a rich source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and vitamin E. They don’t taste the same as roasted peanuts but I do actually really enjoy their subtle, rich and earthy flavor.
If you don’t have jungle peanuts you could substitute with raw cashews or chopped Brazil nuts. Or, if you like, regular roasted peanuts, if you can find an organic and aflotoxin-free source.
Here is the salad with a generous topping of jungle peanuts on the top. I served it on a bed of iceberg lettuce with a cooling portion of sliced cucumbers on the side.
This salad will have you dreaming of a visit to Thailand. I know it awakened my memories of being in Thailand and I can’t wait to go back if the opportunity arises – hopefully soon. I would go just for the food alone! (Including the durian, which I miss so much since leaving Asia).
But in the meantime this should satisfy any yearning for Thai cuisine. And it’s got me thinking of an idea to recreate a raw version of a Thai curry.
So how about you? What’s your favorite Thai dish? And have you found any raw substitutes for traditional Thai meals?