Som Tum, a spectacularly delicious (and usually spectacularly hot) green papaya salad. Green papayas can also be found in recipes from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. When unripe, papayas are not sweet nor have they developed their interior colors - the seeds and the flesh are white; only later do the seeds become glossy charcoal-grey pearls and the flesh turn sunset orange or yellow. Because the natural sugars have not yet developed in green papayas, Asian cooks tend to make savory dishes from them. In contrast, Brazilian cooks normally use unripe papayas in the creation of sweets and desserts, adding sweetness from other sources. (Look here for a savory dish from Brazil that does use green papaya.)
One of the most traditional categories of Brazilian sweets or desserts is called simple doces, which literally means "sweets." A doce is made by cooking fruit for a very long time in a sugar syrup. During the process the sweet syrup completely penetrates the flesh of the fruit, and the syrup itself thickens as it evaporates. During colonial times doces were a practical and economical solution to the problem of how to preserve a bounteous harvest of fruit at a time when there was no refrigeration. Sugar is a natural preservative, and by preserving fruits in syrup these fruits would remain available throughout the year. Today, of course, refrigeration and freezing are alternative possibilities for preserving fruits, but Brazilians have developed a taste for these homemade preserves and they are still popular as desserts.
This recipe, from São Paulo state, incorporates grated green papaya flesh in just such a sugar syrup to create Doce de Mamão Verde. Green papayas are commonly available here in Brazil, but I've also seen them available in Latin and Asian markets in North America and Europe. This dessert can be served chilled or at room temperature - as is, or with a drizzle of heavy cream or coconut milk.
RECIPE - Green Papaya Conserve (Doce de Mamão Verde)
3 small, Hawaiian papayas, or 1 large papaya, very green
3 cups white granulated sugar
6 cups water
With a sharp paring knife, score the papayas in the long direction in order to extract the sap or milk of the flesh. Place on large platter or cookie sheet and let rest for at least two hours. Thoroughly wash the papaya to remove all the sap, dry, and then peel them using a vegetable parer. Cut the peeled papaya in half, remove the white seeds, and then coarsely grate the flesh using the large holes of a grater. Wash the grated pulp in cold water, then squeeze to remove excess moisture.
Put the grated pulp in a medium saucepan, cover with cold water, then quickly bring to a boil over high heat. Drain. Put the pulp back in the saucepan, cover once more with cold water, and bring to a boil a second time and let boil for five minutes. Drain.
Place the pulp in a large bowl, cover with lukewarm water and let rest for four hours. Drain and reserve.
In a large heavy saucepan combine the sugar and 6 cups of water. Over medium-high heat bring to a boil, then add the drained papaya, reduce heat to very low and let cook for two and a half hours, stirring from time to time, until the fruit and syrup cook down and become thickened. Remove from the heat, pour into a heatproof bowl and let rest at room temperature for 24 hours.
The next day, return the papaya to a saucepan, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cook until the fruit become transparent and the syrup thickens additionally. Don't stir. Remove from heat, put in heatproof bowl and let cool completely.
Once cooled, put in glass compote dish and serve.
Recipe translated and adapted from Cozinha Regional Brasileira by Abril Editora