Hawaiian Papaya Salad

In Makawao, on Maui where my mom just moved, it rains a lot. The town is on the slopes of the Haleakala crater, and the North winds bring pockets of rain that falls in sheets and floods the streets in the timespan of an afternoon. Makawao itself has a strange history of cowboys and sugarcane and a bakery called T. Komoda that's been making cream puffs since 1916. I just spent two weeks sleeping on my mom's sofa bed and I feel lucky that I got to know this little town. I’ve spent enough time here that I feel like a regular at the coffee shop, enough time to weave words like “aloha” and “keike” and “vog” into daily conversation. 

Vog is the word for the smog that rolls in from the Kilauea volcano. Call me hoakie but I like that I can feel the power of that volcano erupting all the way from Maui. I've been a little obsessed with watching the volcano news. It's blowing my mind that we get to witness life starting all over again -lava cooling to form new land, ecosystems growing in the lava rocks. 

The life here is palpable. The rain helps. The fields are fifty shades of green. The jungle, obsessed with growing over, eats things alive, swallows cars and houses if you let it. The fruit is ripe, pregnant, heavy in your hand. I like to think that life is transferrable. I feel better here, I feel better when I'm eating those things. 

On Saturdays in Pukalani, the farmer's market is a social event, packed with people starting well before 7am. There's a guy selling the fish he caught that morning and butchered before dawn, and rows of farm stands overflowing with papayas and mangoes and greens and ginger and tomatoes and, my new obsession, Haiku lemons - a sweet, floral lemon grown in the nearby jungle. 

This is all to say that I made a delicious salad the other day using all that ripe, pregnant fruit. My intention was to make an authentic green papaya salad like we had in Thailand, but it took a different direction. The papaya was starting to get color - more orange than green - but still crisp and under-ripe; I didn’t have dried shrimp or fish sauce, and I used macadamias in lieu of peanuts.

I think this recipe proves the versatility of papaya salad. No, it's not authentic, but it's good - and that means you can adjust it using whatever ingredients you have. I bet cashews would be delicious if you can't find macadamias. Enjoy it, embrace it, make it your own! 


Hawaiian Papaya Salad

Yield: 4 servings

Toss the papaya and carrots together in a bowl. 

Cut one lime in half and then each half into quarters. Add the quartered limes (skin + all), ginger, jalapeño, and shallot to a food processor. Process until it's finely chopped (or pound with a mortar & pestle). Add the long beans and tomatoes, and pulse with the food processor until roughly chopped - big chunks are fine here. Add cilantro and mint and pulse again. Now squeeze in the juice from the remaining limes and pulse once more until it's juicy - the tomatoes should have popped by now and released their juices. 

Remove from food processor & add the mixture to the papaya & carrots. Mix well. Season with sea salt and/or more lime juice to taste. Add macadamia nuts & serve.  

1 large unripe papaya, peeled & julienned (technique below) *

2 carrots, grated on a cheese grater

a handful of long beans, chopped into 1 inch pieces (green beans work too)

a handful of baby tomatoes, cut in half if larger than a quarter 

1 shallot or small red onion, roughly chopped 

1/2 jalapeño, roughly chopped 

1 thumb-sized hunk of fresh ginger 

3 limes (or 2 Haiku/meyer lemons)

handful cilantro leaves & stems 

handful mint leaves 

10-15 macadamia nuts, roughly chopped


Serving Suggestions: Serve with seared ahi or grilled fish or add some hunks of avocado to keep it vegan.

* If you have a mandolin, you can shred it using the julienne blade. You could also use a food processor with the shredding attachment. Otherwise, using a sharp knife, make vertical cuts into the flesh, about 1/8 inch apart, then shave down with your knife. This is how they do it in Thailand and it's badass - watch the technique here.  *