Green Papaya & Young Coconut Salad

Have you ever wandered through the produce section of an Asian market, spotted the fresh young coconuts, and thought...hacking into one of those sounds like a lot of fun?

The other day, I was shopping for some vegetables when my eyes lingered on the already-trimmed and plastic-wrapped young coconuts. They were just begging to be put in my cart. After picking out a nice, medium-sized one, I was way too excited while driving home...thinking of all the different ways that I could use mine.

Farmers' markets in Hawai'i always have at least one stand selling these as a snack. After you've sipped away at the ice cold coconut water inside, the person manning the stand expertly breaks it down to free up the tender flesh. In the Philippines, vendors sell "buko juice", perfect for the long humid days. Memories of that sweet, tropical flavor convinced me to turn my young coconut into a fresh, Summer salad!

Some stores carry canned or frozen young coconut meat ready-to-go. But, to me, that doesn't sound nearly as interesting as cutting it up myself! (Remember my encounter with the 6-pound jackfruit? I'm not afraid of a little DIY!)

In my first attempt to make an opening to drain the liquid, I tried making precise cuts around the center. The key word, here, is tried...Have you ever tried making precise cuts with an enormous cleaver?? It's kinda (like a lot kinda) difficult...I'm pretty sure I was so afraid of lopping my other hand off, while holding the coconut in place, that I actually slowed on my downswing right before impact. That self-preservation instinct kicking in...

Finally, after clearing some of the husk, I managed to poke a big enough hole. A direct shot from the heel of the knife to the shell did the trick. (Yaaay. Cue the choir!)

I poured the water through a strainer, just to catch any fibrous strands and shell bits, and ended up with a little over a cup of sweet, fresh coconut water! Again, I started to think of all the different ways that I could use this...sauces, smoothies, desserts...In the end, I just couldn't help myself. I poured it all into a glass with ice and gulped everything down. Aaahh, my reward. So good.

Now, it's on to cutting the coconut in half and cutting that bad boy wide open! I employed the take-one-big-hack-down-the-middle method to get the cleaver wedged in there. Then, I banged that coconut down as hard as I could...

Boom. It split in half!

I'm sure that more graceful methods exist...but if I may say so hack-and-bang method wasn't so bad. (It also relieves stress and tension, works out the bicep/tricep areas, and effectively wakes up all sleepyheads still in bed at 11 on a Sunday morning.)

To scoop out the flesh, a plain ol' spoon got the job done. Wedging the spoon between the flesh and shell of the coconut helped to pull the flesh away in one piece. Any stringy bits sticking to the meat peeled right off, as well. The important part is to scoop as close to the shell as possible and not leave any of that yummy meat behind!

Now I had beautiful coconut "filets" to work with, and that step (thankfully) didn't require me to almost blow out an elbow.

After a quick julienne, the coconut looked like little noodles! They could probably pass off as short-cut udon noodles if you were to put them in a broth. (Hmm. Taking a mental note of that one!)

The other component in this salad is shredded green papaya. It's crunchy and mild, like a cucumber or jicama. Since it's a popular ingredient in a lot of Southeast Asian salads, it's easy to find small bags of pre-shredded papaya at the Asian market.

To make the salad, combine the coconut meat and green papaya with a tablespoon of chopped cilantro. A crisp and refreshing trio!

For the dressing, whisk together fish sauce, rice vinegar, lime juice, and sesame oil. A little bit of the fresh coconut water and some brown sugar add sweetness to round out all of the salty and sour.

Pour this tangy dressing over the salad, and toss to coat all of the ingredients.

Serve the salad with lime wedges, and garnish with slices of Thai bird's eye chilis to add a spicy kick. A glass of ice cold coconut water would be perfect to wash it all down!

You can pair this Green Papaya & Young Coconut Salad with grilled or fried fish as a side dish, or you can add grilled shrimp and make this salad a meal on its own. (The night that I made this, I had it with shrimp and rice!) Try wrapping it in rice paper for a twist on spring rolls and a fun, light appetizer!

Green Papaya & Young Coconut Salad

Print Recipe
1 cup Julienned Young Coconut Meat
1 cup Shredded Green Papaya
1 tbsp Chopped Cilantro
1/2 tbsp Fish Sauce
1/2 tbsp Rice Vinegar
1/2 tbsp Freshly Squeezed Lime Juice
1 tbsp Sesame Oil
2 tbsp Fresh Coconut Water
1/2 tbsp Dark Brown Sugar or Palm Sugar
1-2 Thai Bird's Eye Chilis, sliced for garnish
Lime Wedges, for garnish
  1. In a mixing bowl, combine the coconut meat, green papaya, and chopped cilantro.
  2. To make the vinaigrette, whisk the fish sauce, vinegar, lime juice, sesame oil, coconut water, and sugar together in a separate bowl.
  3. Pour the vinaigrette over the salad, then toss everything together to coat.
  4. Serve the salad with fresh Thai chilis and lime wedges. Enjoy!