Walk through rural parts of Vietnam and you’ll see papaya trees. They resemble small, thin palm trees of sort and chances are, there’s a green papaya dangling from the tree. Papayas grow so well in tropical Asian climates like that of Vietnam that people use them both as fruit when they’re fully ripe, and as a vegetable, when they’re still green and crunchy. Most westerners are unfamiliar with green papaya. What is it? It’s just an unripe papaya, and looks like a green football. The firm, pale green flesh is more or less tasteless and can be rendered into pickles or shredded up into salads. The one above measured about 9 inches long, 4 inches wide and weighed 2 1/3 pounds.
How to buy green papaya
Green papaya is sold in produce sections of Chinese and Southeast Asian markets. They’re usually not with leafy greens but rather with taro, sweet potato and the like. Select a firm one, with no blotchy areas, or soft spots – signs of old age or poor storage. Once home, store it on a plastic produce bag in the fridge. Wrap a paper towel around the fruit to absorb extra moisture, if you plan to keep it for longer than a 3 or 4 days. It will keep for about 2 weeks.
At Vietnamese markets, green papaya is also available pre-shredded for salads. Use it the day you buy it, or it will get soggy and slimy. You can also use the salt/sugar method to squeeze out excess liquid; see the green papaya salad recipe for details.
Prepping tips for green papaya
You must peel green papaya before using it. I just use a vegetable peeler and then cut off the stem. If you have a medium or large green papaya (more than 2 pounds), cut the stem off first, stand the green papaya on its cut end and go at it with the vegetable peeler. Halve the papaya lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop out and discard the seeds. Note how it looks somewhat space alien-like inside. The white seeds eventually turn black during the ripening process.
Cut each half lengthwise into quarters, and then use a knife (or grapefruit knife or melon baller) to remove the thin white layer lining the cavity. Then cut it further to whatever shape or size you need. The kom kom Thai miracle knife is handy for prepping papaya too.
What if you don’t have green papaya?
You can use one that’s on the yellow side – it’s not fully ripe. I’ve found such mid-ripe papayas at Latino markets and they have worked fine for Vietnamese green papaya salad. The flesh is pale yellow-orange but it’s still firm.
Use papain enzyme for mini facial
This sounds weird but when you are expelling moisture from green papaya, that slightly slimy liquid contains papain enzyme, a great digestive and skin exfoliant. I sometimes rub my face with it and let it dry before rinsing. A mini facial while cooking. How’s that for multitasking?
Have any papaya tips or question? Just add them below