The Washington Post: “How to make a salad that captures the essence of Thai cooking” by Joe Yonan

Food and Dining Editor June 11

Mango Tree’s Green Papaya Salad. (Renee Comet for The Washington Post; styling by Bonnie S. Benwick)

When chef Paul Kennedy first went to work for the Mango Tree chain, about five years ago, the company immediately sent him on a 10-week research trip to Thailand. Hired on a Wednesday, flying to Bangkok on Sunday. He went straight from the airport to a restaurant kitchen, where the first dish he made was som tum, the green papaya salad that is a staple of Thai cooking.

Why that one first? “They wanted me to understand what Thai food is about and how Thai people eat,” he said at the multinational company’s CityCenterDC outpost one day this spring. “It’s all about balance.”

Joe Yonan is the Food and Dining editor of The Washington Post and the author of “Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook.” He writes the Food section’s Weeknight Vegetarian column.
Indeed, the dish is a textbook study in the Thai principles of sour-sweet-salty-spicy, and Kennedy took it all in. At Mango Tree, he used a wooden mortar and pestle he brought from Thailand to lightly bruise the key ingredients, tossing the strips of green papaya with a vibrant dressing just before serving.

In May, Kennedy left Mango Tree. But in true classic style, the som tum is staying right where it is.

Recipe: Green Papaya Salad (Som Tum Thai)