The juicy, mild sweetness of papaya works fabulously in this salad of bright, Mexican-inspired flavors, and adds a pop of vivid orange color. I could eat this every single day – it is an irresistible blend of sharp, creamy and crunchy, and the blackened corn and tortilla chips elevate it to something rather special. I recommend using the large papaya (about 30cm long) that you can find in some supermarkets and Asian grocers, as they have a better flavor and texture than the smaller, pear-shaped ones. If you can’t find good papaya, watermelon makes a decent substitute (remove the seeds where possible). Vegans can simply omit the feta, perhaps substituting for some smoked tofu.
Serves 4 as a starter or 2–3 as a main
For the salad
½ red onion, thinly sliced
¼ teaspoon sea salt flakes
½ teaspoon caster sugar
juice of ½ a lime
1 tablespoon rapeseed or olive oil
250g fresh, frozen, or canned corn kernels
½ teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
400g peeled and deseeded papaya (prepared weight), cut into 2.5cm dice
20g coriander leaves, roughly chopped
1 jalapeño chili, deseeded and thinly sliced
100g feta, crumbled
125g baby plum or cherry tomatoes, halved
2 corn or corn-wheat tortillas (about 20cm diameter)
salt or freshly ground black pepper
For the dressing
juice and finely grated zest of ½ a lime
1 small garlic clove, crushed
1 teaspoon agave nectar or maple syrup
½ teaspoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6.
Place the red onion in a small bowl with the salt, sugar, and lime juice, stir well, and set aside while you prepare everything else, stirring occasionally.
Heat a medium frying pan over high heat, then add 1 teaspoon of the rapeseed or olive oil. If you’re using canned corn kernels, drain well and pat dry on kitchen paper. If you’re using frozen, simply pat dry. Tip the corn kernels into the hot pan, then add the paprika, a good sprinkling of salt, and a generous grinding of black pepper.
Cook over high heat, stirring occasionally until the corn starts to blacken slightly and smell smoky. Don’t stir too much – allow it time to char a bit. It may also start to pop, so watch out for flying corn missiles around your kitchen! You may have to do this in batches, depending on the size of your pan – you want an even layer on the base of the pan but no more, otherwise, the corn will steam rather than blacken.
Once the corn is done, tip it into a large mixing bowl and set it aside to cool. Once cool, add the papaya along with the coriander, jalapeño, feta, and tomatoes. Slice the avocado in half, remove the stone, and cut the flesh into 1.5cm dice. Add those to the bowl, too.
Slice the tortillas into small triangles (roughly the same size as nachos) and spread them out on a large baking sheet in a single layer. Drizzle with the remaining rapeseed or olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt to season. Put the baking sheet in the oven and cook the tortillas for 5 minutes, or until they are golden, but not brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
Meanwhile, whisk together all the ingredients for the dressing in a small jug.
Tip the red onion slices into the bowl with the rest of the salad. Add the dressing and toss everything gently. Just before serving, add the tortilla chips and give it one final stir.