When I lived in Hawaii I had a tall papaya tree that grew outside my bedroom window. I remember the distinct aroma of the unripe fruit, its spicy bitterness and the white sticky sap that would seep from the cut stem. On Eastern Maui, papayas are garbage food, rotting beside the roads and forgotten in backyards. The only person who seemed remotely interested in them was a Thai lady who would make some of the most incredible green papaya salad I have ever had.
Papayas don’t grow in Big Sur, but we have plenty of wild nasturtiums. The flavor of the seeds and flowers has always reminded me of green papaya. It was not until recently that I discovered they both belong to the Brassicales order, a large group of plants known for producing glucosinolate (mustard oil). This might explain why they are reminiscent of one other.
This week I am slow braising sweetbreads with young coconut water, then crisping them with rice flour and serving them with toasted cashew butter and a thai style nasturtium leaf salad.