Thai pomelo salad is a classic Thai salad combining juicy citrus with herbs, crunchy nuts and a sweet, tart and spicy dressing. It's a refreshing and delicious mix that makes a great appetizer or side.
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Salads come in so many different forms, and I have to say, while I may not jump to have a plain old green salad too often, I am a fan of many other types. I love salads that have a range of textures, flavors and just generally are interesting. This is most definitely one such salad.
It has chunks of fruit that burst with juice as you bite into them, fresh, fragrant herbs and a dressing that has sweet, sour and spicy all at once. Then you have the occasional crunch from the peanuts. In other words, lots going on, yet it's simple at the same time.
What is pomelo?
Pomelo is the largest citrus fruit from the grapefruit family. It is one of the original citrus fruits before some of the more recent hybrid varieties, that is native to Southeast Asia. These days, it's also grown in other parts of the world, including parts of the US.
Pomelo, also written as pumelo, pommelo and pomello, has a flavor that is relatively similar to grapefruit, but that little bit sweeter and less acidic, on the whole. The skin is a yellow-green color, it has a thick pith, then the fruit can be yellow or pink.
In the US, it has it's peak season in February and these days you'll find them in many mainstream supermarkets during that time.
Types of Thai salads
Thai salads fall in to four main categories: yam, tam, lap and phla. Within each of these, you will find lots of variety, not just in the ingredients but also flavor profiles particularly between regions.
"Yam" means "mix" but the ingredients can be pretty much anything from meats to vegetables, or fruits to noodles. The majority include a sweet-sour-spicy dressing including fish sauce, lime and chili, and have some aromatics that typically include lemongrass, shallots and often herbs. This salad falls in this category.
"Tam" means "pounded" and in the case of this style of salad, that isn't to make a paste but to bring out the flavors of the ingredients as you mix them. They typically use the same dressing as yam salads, though in Northern Thailand they generally don't include the sour part. The most famous example is Thai green papaya salad, som tam (and it's cousin Lao green papaya salad).
"Lap", also written as laap, larp or larb, originates in Laos and is part of Laotian and Northern Thai cooking. They are essentially a chopped meat salad, seasoned with herbs, aromatics like lemongrass and with the addition of ground toasted rice, khao khua. Chicken larp is an example, and nam tok, waterfall beef salad, is a variation where the meat is slices rather than minced.
"Phla" was traditionally a ceviche-like salad using raw meat/fish, but these days is more often a lightly cooked protein than raw. They also often use the sweet-sour-spicy dressing.
About the ingredients
You might at first think there are lots of ingredients here, and a couple are a little harder to find, but you should find all in an Asian supermarket. Each adds something to make this dish a real feast for the senses.
Pomelo - as mentioned above, this is a large citrus fruit similar to grapefruit, and it forms the bulk of this salad. If you can't find it, you could make this with grapefruit instead. However, it really is worth trying to find pomelo if you can.
Top tip: picking pomelo
Look for a fruit that has a blemish-free skin that's slightly shiny rather than wrinkled or dry. It should feel heavy for it's size - these are indications of a juicy fruit inside.
Roasted peanuts - these add a lovely crunch to the dish. You are looking for roasted, unsalted peanuts which you should find in most larger supermarkets. You can leave them in larger chunks, or break them up a little with a pestle and mortar.
Dried shrimp - these are used in a few Southeast Asian dishes, adding a slightly salty umami depth. For this salad, you break them up so that them form a kind of 'fluff' that adds texture, as well as flavor. You will probably need to go to an Asian supermarket to get these. You can usually find them either in the refrigerated or frozen section.
Shredded coconut - this too adds texture and a little flavor. If you can find ready toasted, unsweetened coconut, then feel free to use that. But toasting your own, using the unsweetened shredded coconut you find in the baking aisle, is really easy and probably has a better flavor as it is freshly toasted. You simple toast it in a dry skillet over medium heat - it's the only cooking needed for this dish!
Lemongrass - this adds a lovely aromatic flavor that pairs well with the citrus. Fresh lemongrass is best here, though you can use pre-prepared in a pinch. With fresh, make sure you cut it really, really thin as it can be tough to eat otherwise. Lemongrass is becoming more easy to find in larger stores, and certainly in any Asian supermarket.
Lime leaves - these are sometimes known as makrut lime leaves or kaffir lime leaves. They are popular in many Southeast Asian cuisines and add a lovely bright, aromatic flavor to a range of dishes from curries to salads. I've been finding them less easy to find fresh recently, but it's worth trying as they do add something special. You will want to chop them really finely. If you can't find them, a little lime zest is an option but certainly not quite the same.
Shallot - this too adds another aromatic flavor and depth to the salad. Like the lemongrass, you want to cut it in very thin slices.
Mint (and optionally cilantro) - herbs pair so well with citrus and add a great freshness to the dish. Here, since the main bulk is the pomelo, they add a touch of green to the salad, too.
Thai dressing - this uses the classic dressing combination of lime juice, fish sauce, palm sugar and fresh Thai chili (typically birds eye). The combination is a fantastic combination of a little sweet, a little sour and a little spicy. If you can't find palm sugar, brown or coconut sugar would work instead. You may need to adjust the proportions a little depending on how sweet your pomelo is.
How to peel and separate pomelo
Pomelo can seem intimidating at first, being so large. It also has a thick pith and the rind can be a bit bitter. However, it's not actually that hard to dissect once you get started. It will just feel like it has quite a lot of waste. But it's worth it for the lovely fruit inside.
First, you cut the top off roughly where the inside fruit starts. Often, you can feel through the skin where the flesh starts, or else you can take a rough guess. Then, you score down the outside as if you were cutting segments, but just through the skin and pith.
Next, you press in at the top of each of these sections of skin with your thumb to help you peel away the skin from the fruit (as in photo above). You should get most of the pith come away, but don't worry if some remains. You can peel it a little more, but some left is fine at this point.
Then, open it up from the middle to separate it into chunks. Take part at a time and peel off part of the membrane to reveal the flesh inside. Use either your fingers or a knife to remove the flesh from the membrane (as in photo above). Don't worry about getting the segment out in one piece - for this, you break the segments up anyway. If you still have some membrane/pith attached, then remove this as it can be bitter.
This might all seem a bit of a process, but it's not actually difficult. And while it takes a few minutes, other than a little chopping, you don't have much more to do. In fact, you simply mix the dressing and toss everything else in.
This Thai pomelo salad is such a wonderful mix of textures and flavors. It's a great way to enjoy this less known citrus, and makes a delicious, vibrant, light (not to mention healthy) salad that makes a great appetizer, or you could make it a side. Definitely one to try when pomelo is in season.
Try these other salads with citrus:
- Sicilian fennel orange salad (wonderfully simple and a lovely mix of flavors)
- Beet and blood orange salad
- Tropical fruit salad (true this one os as much about the mango etc, but orange is in there too!)
- Plus get more appetizer recipes in the archives.
Thai pomelo salad
- 2 cups pomelo broken into chunks (2 cups is a little under 1 average-sized fruit)
- 2 tablespoon shredded unsweetened coconut (dried)
- 2 tablespoon dried shrimp
- 2 tablespoon roasted unsalted peanuts
- 1 shallot (small, ½ if larger)
- ½ stem lemongrass
- 1 makrut lime leaf (also called kaffir lime leaves)
- 3 tablespoon mint leaves roughly torn
- 3 tablespoon cilantro leaves roughly torn, optional
- 1 Thai chili small eg birds eye (or more/less to taste)
- 2 teaspoon palm sugar or coconut sugar/brown sugar if not availiable
- 1 ½ tablespoon lime juice
- ½ tablespoon fish sauce
- Prepare the pomelo as described in the post above and shown in the video - cut off top, score down sides then remove skin and pith. Break open into chunks then remove the membrane and remove the flesh from inside. Take off any membrane or pith still attached and break into chunks.
- If not already toasted, toast the dried coconut in a dry skillet/frying pan over a medium heat for a couple of minutes, moving now and then, until it becomes golden brown in color. Set aside to cool.
- If you like, roughly break up the peanuts with a pestle and mortar to be smaller pieces, though this is optional.
- Place the dried shrimp in a spice grinder or small, high power blender/food processor and grind until they are well broken up and 'fluffy' looking.
- Peel and very thinly slice the shallot and lemongrass. Remove the central rib from the lime leaf and very finely slice then chop to small pieces. Roughly tear or chop the mint and cilantro, if using.
- Mince the chili then place in a serving bowl with the sugar, lime juice and fish sauce. Mix them together well. It's worth trying your pomelo to see how sweet it is and if you might want to make the dressing a little sweeter (more sugar) or tart (more lime) accordingly.
- Add the other ingredients to the bowl - pomelo, coconut, peanuts, ground up shrimp, shallot, lemongrass, lime leaf, mint and cilantro. Mix everything together gently so you don't break the fruit too much, but so that everything is well combined.
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