What’s Rick Moonen’s favorite dish?

Lately, my favorite dish has been — and it’s a Thai influence — a green papaya salad. Papaya is so healthy, so low in calories, yet it brings on so much. It’s great for digestion. It’s got an enzyme — papain — that’s used as a meat tenderizer because it’s so powerful in digesting proteins. So when you eat it, it breaks down the proteins and the foods that you ate in your stomach much more efficiently. It gives your stomach a chance to relax because it’s doing the work for you. Also, it means that you’re going to absorb more of the nutrients that you just ate. It’s a natural anti-toxin; it detoxifies. It takes out carcinogenic parts that may be accumulating in your system; it helps cleanse you of that. The papain is actually used to remove venom or pain from bee stings. It’s also an exfoliant; if you put it on your skin, it will dissolve the dry skin off of your hands or your face.

Anyway, it’s good for you, but what makes it delicious is the green papaya dressing that goes on it, which is a combination of fish sauce, a little lime juice, garlic, chiles, hot chili peppers, sweetened with a little bit of honey or palm sugar and a little shrimp paste, which is a pureed shrimp and dried shrimp. If you don’t have that at home, I usually just add anchovy filets to fortify the fish sauce that’s already in there. Put that combination on top of the green papaya, carrots, bean sprouts, tomatoes, herbs — because I love the freshness of herbs, there’s cilantro and mint in there. It’s so good. It’s fantastic with fish and meat. I love to serve it with seared sea scallops.

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