While you might know papaya as the sunset-colored fruit you add to a fruit salad or smoothie, I’m here to tell you about green papaya. It’s the exact same fruit as the orange one but unripe. This kind of papaya isn’t sweet at all. It’s pretty flavorless and takes on the taste of whatever you cook it with. You might hear this called “green papaya,” “unripe papaya,” or even “raw papaya” interchangeably, but usually these terms refer to the same thing.
There are a few good reasons to eat unripe papaya. It’s high in fiber and digestive enzymes. It holds a crunch when cooked, and, if you’re living in a tropical area, papayas are abundant. You might even have a situation on your hands like I had this past week. A papaya tree tipped over, cracking its stem and bestowing us with over twenty papaya fruits.
It was a sad day for this tree. But, like survivalists, we gathered the green papayas and quickly replanted the top trunk and crossed our fingers. So far, its leaves are still green, so we’ll see!
And then, of course, there was this question: what do we do with all this unripe fruit?
The good news was that we’re not the first ones to discover that green papaya is edible. There are many dishes from South and Southeast Asia that use green papaya. It’s even made its way into many Americans’ palates through Thai menu items like Som Tam. I also happened upon this Costa Rican recipe for “Blue Zones Green Papaya” from the Blue Zones Cookbook. It was simple, and I was eager to try a version that cooked the main event.
I ended up loving it! The green papaya keeps a meaty texture when cooked, and the culantro, onion, and jalapeño add just enough flavor. It’s deceptively simple for being so flavorful.
I hope you enjoy this dish, too, whether you buy an unripe papaya or have a backyard windfall of fruit.Print
A simple, fresh taco filling made from sautéed green papaya.
For the Green Papaya Sauté
- 1 pound green papaya (about one medium papaya)
- 1–2 leaves culantro, roughly chopped
- 1/2 onion, cut in half and then thinly sliced
- 1 jalapeño, seeds removed and diced
For the Tacos
- small corn tortillas
- optional toppings: onion, tomato, radishes, lettuce, queso fresco, greens, shredded cabbage, diced jalapeño, avocado
- a few limes (essential!)
To Cut the Papaya
The original recipe called for julienned papaya, which is quite time consuming to accomplish with a knife. If you have a food processor, grater, kiwi shredder, or mandolin, you can make your life a lot easier. However, I did it old school. Here’s my process:
- Cut off the very top of the papaya, then peel the whole thing with a vegetable peeler or a sharp paring knife.
- Cut the papaya in half and remove the seeds.
- Cut the papaya into a few pieces lengthwise, so that each piece is smooth on the inside, then use your vegetable peeler to peel off the inside part, so that all that’s left is smooth papaya flesh.
- Cut each piece, lengthwise, into 1/4-in wide strips.
- With your knife at an angle, cut these strips into very thin slices, as thin as you can make them.
For the Sauté
- Preheat a large ceramic pan to medium-high. When it’s hot add a drizzle of olive oil to coat the pan.
- Add the onion slices and jalapeño and cook, stirring, until the onion starts to caramelize and turn golden in color.
- Add the culantro and papaya and a few pinches of salt. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook until all the papaya pieces turn translucent. This will depend on the size of your papaya pieces and your pan. For me, this process took 15-20 minutes, but in the cookbook version with julienned papaya, it took 3-4 minutes.
- When all the papaya is cooked remove from the heat.
Assembling the Tacos
- Heat a dry pan to medium (or use the pan that just cooked the papaya).
- Lay a premade tortilla onto the pan and heat until it just starts to brown. Flip and brown the other side slightly.
- Repeat with all tortillas (this recipe uses about seven).
- To assemble the tacos, scoop the green papaya mixture onto the tortillas and top with whatever you desire.
- Squeeze a slice of lime onto your taco and enjoy!
Toppings: As my photos show, I used radishes, watercress, and hot sauce to top my tacos.
Recipe adapted from The Blue Zones Cookbook by Dan Buettner, which, in turn, was adapted from the recipes of Nicoyan residents.
Keywords: vegan, vegetarian, papaya, green papaya, raw papaya, survival food, tropical foods, dinner, Costa Rican food,