I can picture some of you munching on a raw carrot come the New Year, your teeth and jaws made strong with your New Year’s resolutions, feeling virtuous and crunchy after all the holiday excesses. Perhaps others are snorting at how clichéd it is of me to assume everyone is going to be on a healthy eating schtick and are currently eating bacon rashers by the fistful.

This simple Thai salad should meet various needs on either end of the spectrum. This is not your usual dainty-do arrangement; here, fresh carrots, peanuts, chilli, and garlic are pounded together until all their bright and strong flavours meld together. It’s quick, fresh and versatile and can be enjoyed with just a plateful of rice, as part of a multi-dish Thai meal, or indeed with any other cuisine if the flavours are right. Leela, who wrote the original recipe, likes this salad with roast pork and coconut rice. I myself love it as a crunchy contrast to some garlicky roast chicken.

I’ve adopted Leela’s clever method of using plastic bags and a blunt heavy object to quickly pound together this salad, it is an excellent stress-remover. Let’s hope your downstairs neighbours don’t have a hangover…

Recipes: Thai spicy carrot salad (som tam)

Serving Size: 1 as a main course with rice


  • . 175g coarsely grated carrots - from about 2 medium sized carrots
  • . 1 - 3 Thai bird's eye chillies, depending on heat tolerance.
  • . 1 medium clove garlic, peeled
  • . 2 - 3 teaspoons palm sugar (any brown or white sugar is fine; if white sugar, use start off with 1 teaspoon)
  • . 3 - 4 tablespoons roasted unsalted peanuts
  • . Fresh lime juice to taste (start off with half a lime or so)
  • . Fish sauce or salt to taste


  1. Have to hand a few small plastic sandwich/freezer bags.
  2. Place the grated carrots in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
  3. Put the garlic and chilli(es) into a plastic bag, carefully press out all the air and seal. With a blunt heavy object (a rolling pin, rounders bat, a tin), smash the garlic and chilli through the closed bag until they form a paste.
  4. You may have to shuffle the contents a little to destroy everything evenly.
  5. Empty the garlic and chilli paste into the carrot bowl.
  6. If the sugar you're using is lumpy (e.g. palm, older brown sugars), place it into the bag and smash it up until softened and/or de-lumped. Add to the carrot bowl.
  7. If the bag splits at any point, use another one.
  8. Lastly, smash the roasted unsalted peanuts in the bag until roughly broken up. Sprinkle this over the carrots.
  9. Add a few dashes of fish sauce (or pinches of salt) and a squeeze of lime juice to the carrots.
  10. With very clean hands, squeeze and toss the carrots until everything is evenly distributed and the carrot strands have softened a little. Use gloves if you're sensitive to chillies.
  11. Taste: it should be salty-sweet-sour-hot in a way that pleases you. Add fish sauce/salt, lime juice, and sugar until it's right.
  12. Serve immediately. This salad doesn't keep well so make only what you need.

About The Author

History of Art graduate from SOAS (jointly with UCL). I cook, eat, and observe the world. Then I write about it and share it with you. This is a unilateral decision.

One Response

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