I operate on a sort of open door system: If I leave the doors of my mind open to possibility and don’t make a habit of forcing through things that don’t fit, good fortune often finds me. It is a strange in a way, because I do not really buy into belief systems, but here I am claiming one.

Here’s how it works: the other day I was cleaning in the basement and found a VHS copy of The Scent of Green Papaya—an incredibly lush and evocative film that makes you want to do nothing but live in Vietnam and cook using the bounty of the land. The next day, I was with my young sons at an Asian supermarket in town and I spotted a green papaya. I’d never cooked with one before, so I snatched a firm, evenly green one off of the pile.

Read the full recipe for green papaya, apple and Thai basil salad after the click.

Last night, I was holding the thing in one hand and thumbing through recipes online and in books with the other. Every recipe that called for it required something I didn’t have handy (shallot, red onion, shrimp paste …). Undeterred, I looked through my fridge and found everything I reasoned I needed for a good fruit salad. So I cut the green papaya in half. I stared at the otherworldly seeds for a minute and wondered why it A) smelled vaguely of mold and B) was sweating profusely.

Then cut the skin off of the half and quartered it. I grated the meat on the large side of a cheese grater and put it in a bowl.

Next, I took one gala apple, peeled it and cut it into matchsticks. Those went into the bowl as well.

I’d picked up a large package of fresh Thai basil at the market as well, so I pulled off about 15 big leaves and cut them chiffonade. Into the bowl.

Next, a dressing: I squeezed the juice of one Meyer lemon into a small bowl and added to it about two teaspoons of ume plum vinegar. I put this magic, fermented stuff into just about every salad dressing I make, but always use it sparingly and cut it with another acid because it has a very salty flavor. I put in a small pinch of kosher salt and then whisked in one to one-and-a-half tablespoons of grapeseed oil.

I tossed that dressing with my salad and then garnished the affair with some dried red chile flakes and roasted black sesame seeds. The flavor was surprisingly excellent. The sweetness of the apples was nicely underscored by the slightly bitter melon flavor of the green papaya and the Thai basil gave it all extra tang. I did wish I had some strawberries on-hand for a little extra sweetness and color, but I’m sure I’ll revisit this one with many variations.

This is a salad you can believe in.

What you need:


  • half a green papaya
  • one gala apple
  • 15 leaves of Thai Basil


  • juice of one Meyer lemon
  • 2 tsp ume plum vinegar
  • 1-1.5 Tbsp grapeseed oil
  • pinch of kosher salt

Process outlined above.

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