What to Do With Green Papaya? Cook It!

Why, you ask, is Norma putting a recipe for green papaya on her blog about Oaxaca? Isn’t Green papaya found on Thai restaurant menus shredded as salad? Isn’t it part of Southeast Asian cuisine topped with curry paste? Why not Green Papaya Mexican Chili Salsa?

Papaya is native to the tropics of the Americas, including the coast of Oaxaca, Veracuz and Chiapas. It was first cultivated in Mexico several centuries before the emergence of the Mesoamerican classic cultures. It has extraordinary medicinal properties; indigenous women used it to tenderize meat and for personal use as a contraceptive.

Green papaya with spinach and tomato

Papaya is plentiful in all Oaxaca markets. Sometimes the skin is so bright pink-orange and ripe that with one squeeze you know it could open up, and you would have to eat it right then and there on the street. Papaya sprinkled with Tajin (get it in your local Mexican market) or fresh lime juice is a perfect treat.

Stir-fry green papaya in Wok on high heat

We are not so lucky in the U.S. Juicy, ripe papaya is hard to come by. Stephen, in his market comings and goings around town, arrived home with a pile of organic green papaya. These did not even have a hint of “ripe” written on them. They were nearly rock hard. “Is this food?” I asked. Then, “Let’s see what we can do with them.” The closest thing I could come up with was papaya in green curry sauce, but we had none of the traditional ingredients on hand. I had fresh spinach and cilantro, no lemongrass. I had tomatoes, no coconut milk. I had scallions, no shallots. I DID have garlic, salt, red pepper, turmeric, paprika, So I made it up as I went along. Now, I’m passing it along to you.

Prepare chili paste in food processor

Mexican Green Papaya Chili Salsa

  • 2 large green papaya, peeled, halved, seeded
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 6-10 scallions, trimmed, cut into 2″ pieces
  • 2 medium ripe tomatoes or 4 tomatillos
  • 2 cups fresh spinach, washed, trimmed, leaves only
  • 1/2 c. fresh cilantro, washed, trimmed
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 t. powdered turmeric
  • 1/4 t. cayenne pepper
  • 1 t. paprika
  • fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 1/4-1/2 c. oil for cooking
  • a Wok

Papaya preparation: cut the hard ends off the papaya halves. Cut pieces uniformly about 1/2″ x 1/4″ and put in bowl. Wash.

In food processor add: garlic, scallions, spinach, cilantro and tomatoes. Process until smooth. Add turmeric, cayenne pepper, paprika, and salt. Process for 30 seconds. Set bowl aside.

Add oil to Wok and heat on high burner for about 2-3 minutes until oil sizzles when you flick a bit of cold water into it. Add papaya. Keep heat on high and attend the Wok, turning the papaya every 2-3 minutes until it is browned and begins to soften. Do not walk away. After about 15 minutes, cover the Wok and let the papaya continue to cook on high heat for another 5-7 minutes. Stir the papaya once or twice during this time.

Remove the lid. Pour the spinach-cilantro mixture over the papaya and stir. Continue to cook over high heat until mixture thickens and papaya is soft.

Pour salsa over papaya, then stir

Serve with steamed rice as a vegetarian entree or accompaniment to roasted chicken. Serves 6.

Cook mixture until sauce is thick and papaya is soft

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