Take me back to paradise

by Sam Bilton on June 25, 2012 1 comment

There are certain foods that have the ability to transport me to another time and place with a single mouthful, just like Proust’s madeleines.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

One of the most evocative dishes I know is Green Papaya Salad. A spicy salad with a sweet and sour salty dressing yet always refreshing in a hot climate. I’ve eaten it in the shadow of Angkor Wat; on the banks of the Chao Phraya river in Bangkok; on a boat in Halong Bay and in alongside monks in Vientiane. Whenever I eat it in Britain (which is rare) the first mouthful instantly takes me back to South East Asia. This is definitely one of my dessert island dishes…

Some of you may have read about my Paleo diet experience recently on lovefood.com. It’s a diet designed to mimic that of our caveman ancestors and excludes all dairy, complex carbohydrates, potatoes and all legumes (and this include legume derivatives like Soy Sauce). I was determined to eat flavourful food during the month. I adapted a couple of Thai recipes to create the salad below with ingredients that can be found easily in the UK. The first was, of course, green papaya salad substituting the papaya for mango. The second was a minced chicken salad known as Laap or Larp (not to be confused with live action role playing!) which I believe originates from northern Thailand and Laos.

This is a hearty but still refreshing salad which can be made a day ahead if you want to take it to work instead of sandwiches. It’s not quite the same as green papaya salad but it’s a damn close second.

What foods bring back memories for you?

Spicy Chicken, Mango and Vegetable Salad

Serves 4

Spicy chicken, mango and vegetable salad

Ingredients – for the chicken

  •  3 dried kaffir lime leaves
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 500g minced chicken *
  • 1 lemongrass stalk, finely chopped
  • 2-4 red bird eye chillies, finely chopped **
  •  2 tbsp lime juice
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp chopped coriander, finely chopped


  1. Soak the kaffir lime leaves in a little boiling water for 20 minutes then finely chop.
  2. Heat the oil in a non stick frying pan.  Add the chicken and cook for about 10 minutes until cooked through stirring frequently to break up any large clumps, (I use a potato masher to break down the meat into smaller morsels).
  3. In a large bowl combine the remaining ingredients (including the lime leaves). When the chicken is cooked add it to the dressing and stir until thoroughly coated. Allow to marinate for at least 1 hour before serving.

Ingredients – for the salad

  • ½ large cucumber, seeds removed
  • 1 large slightly under ripe mango, peeled
  • 2 large carrots, peeled
  • 1 red pepper, quartered and finely sliced
  • 4 spring onions, finely sliced
  • 2-4 red bird eye chillies, finely sliced **
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 100g roasted cashew nuts (unsalted)


  1. Coarsely grate the cucumber and place in a sieve over a bowl to allow some of the juice to drain away.
  2. Coarsely grate the mango and carrot. Combine with the pepper and the spring onions. Added the drained cucumber.
  3. Finely chop the chillies. Mix the chillies with the lime juice and fish sauce.
  4. Pour dressing over the vegetables and fruit and mix thoroughly.
  5. To assemble the salad, place some of the vegetables on a plate then top with the marinated minced chicken. Sprinkle with roasted cashews and serve immediately.

* If you can get minced chicken buy 500g chicken thighs (which are cheaper than breasts) and blitz them in a food processor.

** How many chillies you add depends on how hot you like your food! I usually use 2 but feel free to add more!

Sam BiltonTake me back to paradise

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1 comment

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  • Mona - June 29, 2012 reply

    I will be adding many more chilis to mine! Will be trying this in the coming weeks when I have company.

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