A guest from Europe was quite fascinated at the sight of the papaya tree growing in my garden.It wasn’t just the fact that it was a tropical tree but also because the fruit when available was rather expensive in his part of the world.That set me thinking. Here in our city ,we are blessed with papaya trees grow unhindered with ease.Most of the papaya trees at my home aren’t the result of careful sowing but in fact the result of nature’s seed dispersal system.
As a child the papaya was a fruit that I didn’t like at all. It’s thanks to my husband that it now rates high on my list of favourite foods. The ripe red papaya with a squeeze of lemon is just delicious for breakfast. Lately however my enjoyment of the papaya has grown by way of including it in my diet in the unripe state as well.
I know what you must be thinking; green papaya salad . Yes,I cannot deny that the classic som tum is a salad that tickles the palate like none other but there’s more to it than that. Did you know that a green papaya poriyal is just as easy as making a cabbage poriyal and tastes even better. Not that I have anything against the cruciferous vegetables,just that it’s wonderful to be able to work with locally grown produce in different ways.In fact folks who can’t tolerate the full bodied aroma of ripe papaya often find it immensely palatable in the green form.
I was having a food chat with one of my aunts recently and the conversation went into the merits of the green papaya. She was absolutely in wonderment of the thought of using the unripe papaya in South Indian cooking.The texture alone allows a myriad possibilities in the way it can be cooked.It can be eaten raw ,steamed , lightly stir fried or blanched before tempering.
My friend Divya got me this really cool hand held shredder that can shred thin strips off vegetables that are firm. Thanks to that fun gadget I’ve begun experimenting more with the green papaya. It’s easy to get thin,translucent noodle like strands when using the fine peeler against the hard pale green flesh. Not only does it look infinitely appetizing but it adds a great deal to the final taste of the dish. Don’t worry though if you don’t own one of them. Slicing thin shavings with a regular vegetable peeler works well too. The papaya in the picture as you can see has begun to show the first blush of the ripening stage but it still retains all the inherent properties of the green papaya at this stage… crunchy , firm and savoury.
The first time I cut into a green papaya I wasn’t prepared for the milky liquid that coated my fingers. It needs to be washed off thoroughly before the flesh can be consumed. It’s also at this stage when the seeds are still pale globules that the enzymatic and anti-oxidant properties are at the optimum. As the sugars develop when the fruit ripens ,the enzymes decrease gradually. That doesn’t mean that it is no longer considered healthy but just that the health benefits are considreable greter in a green papaya than in a fully ripe one.
I’ve tried so many different combinations while cooking with the green papaya and they’ve all turned out so well.The trick is in keeping the flavours simple and fresh. Cucumber,green mango,lime,ripe red chillies , lemon,onions,mint,coriander,coconut,peanuts,micro greens,sprouts , soy sauce ,green beans,sugar,fish sauce are all great ingredients to use along with the green papaya. I cannot think of dunking it in heavy masalas or gravies. Once grated it does let out a fair bit of water,so the best way to avoid that is to steam it or blanch it for a few minutes in boiling salted water.
Due to it’s inherent digestive properties, green papaya paste has been used for centuries as a meat tenderizer.That paste can also be incorporated to add a boost of nutrition to say cutlets , dips and sauces.
Again we are at fault for failing to see that which grows right before our very eyes. If we teach ourselves to adapt cooking techniques to include not just what our grocers hand out to us but that which is easily available,we will help in creating a demand for a product which will also help our environment thrive. Including native foods into our culinary experiments is truly the way forward.The green papaya is available throughout the year.I don’t see a reason not to take advantage of that , do you ?