Once upon a time I went to a gentle little backpacker lodge of zero stars known as Maqai on the teeny, tiny little enchanted island of Gamea off the coast of Taveuni. The staff was extraordinary, so much so that when my friend and I left after only being there for 5 days, we cried. (Hey, don’t judge, they treat you like family versus guests.)
The cooks were the light of my life. The food was traditional Fijian, hearty and of gargantuan proportions. This recipe is inspired by a similar salad created by one of these local chefs with un-ripened papaya being the star ingredient. At first, I couldn’t place what it was made from, my initial guess was radish, which I had seen only once before in Fiji. I couldn’t stand the suspense any longer so I went up and asked my new friends in the kitchen. And to my surprise her answer was un-ripened papaya. Brilliance! There are so many and what to do with them? This is my improvised rendition of her resourceful dish.
The ginger stands out with its quick heat and zing to the palette. The lemon juice is in the background and assists in lightening up the coconut milk. My favorite part about this is the raisins. That pop of unexpected sweetness against the heat of the ginger and chili is perfect! Might I also suggest a few ounces of fresh pineapple to add to the sweetness of this delicate tropical slaw. It is critical that you soak the un-ripened papaya to tenderize it otherwise the texture is like eating raw potato. I would eat this as a side dish with grilled fish or chicken and it would work great in a po-boy style sandwich!
NOTE: Un-ripened papaya contains very strong enzymes so unless you want to exfoliate your palms and have them peeling for over a week it is advised to wear plastic gloves while handling it. (Embarrassingly I am speaking from experience here.)
Sweet n Sour Green Papaya Slaw
3 cups grated un-ripened papaya, (1 medium green papaya)
¾ cup carrot, grated
¼ cup raisins
1inch thumb ginger, peeled and minced or pounded
1 small clove garlic, minced fine
1 small chili, minced fine (optional)
1 heaping tblsp cilantro, chopped
3 tbslp fresh lemon juice
sea salt to taste
2 1/2 cup light coconut milk
Using an unripe green papaya, cut in half-discarding the seeds, peel the outer skin, and grate on the round hole side of a box grater. Place in cool water with a heavy pinch of salt and let sit for 30 minutes. Squeeze very well to drain as much water as possible.
Pound garlic, chili and ginger with a mortar and pestle or mince very finely. Combine all the ingredients except for salt as it will draw water out. Refrigerate for 30 minutes salting just before serving. Coconut milk becomes solid when refrigerated so if you are serving after storing it in the refrigerator for a long period of time make sure you remove it at least 30 minutes before serving. Serve cool or room temperature.