Papaya Copper Penny Salad

by Dr. Hennie Fisher

Copper penny salad, that firm favourite on South African tables, is more a relish than a true salad. It apparently got its name from the fact that the carrot rounds used in its making resemble copper pennies, for those who can still remember what a copper penny looked like. Despite the uncertainty of its origins, it has become an undeniably South African dish. The salad consists of carrot rounds and other vegetables in a tasty sweet and sour sauce that is often quite thick and gloopy. While some recipes use a sauce that is not cooked at all, this recipe calls for the sauce to be cooked to thicken it slightly so that it coats the vegetables and papaya with a deliciously tangy red sauce. The papaya in this copper penny version is delicious and adds a fruity sweetness and hint of gentleness to the salad. In some recipes the other vegetables, such as the onions, celery and green pepper are sautéed along with the carrots, while in other recipes they are used raw. Because of the added papaya in this recipe, the onion and green pepper are used raw. This has some advantages; the salad is very crisp and fresh, but the disadvantage is that it will not keep so long. Generally, if all the vegetables and the sauce is cooked together, then the relish type of salad can keep a very long time if correctly bottled. As a relish this salad is particularly delicious as an accompaniment to a braai, or as a condiment with any savoury pie, sausages, or a cottage pie.

Be gentle and peel your carrots evenly all round, so that you have beautiful round disks; you do not want a hexagonal shape. Add the papaya at the last minute and take care not to toss the salad too vigorously – you don’t want to turn it into mush.

Ingredients for one medium salad suitable for 6 to 8 people:

For the dressing:
200 ml (1 small tin) tomato juice or tomato cocktail
Juice of ½ fresh lemon
50 ml red wine vinegar
7,5 ml (½ tablespoon) prepared English mustard
5 ml (1 teaspoon) salt
2,5 ml (½ teaspoon) freshly ground black pepper
30 ml (2 tablespoons) sugar
15 ml (1 tablespoon) Worcestershire sauce
10 ml (2 teaspoons) corn starch (optional), mixed with 15 ml (1 tablespoon) water

4 carrots (450 g), peeled, cut into rings
2 stems celery (leaves attached if you wish), thinly sliced
1 green-pepper, cut into small dice, or thinly sliced
½ medium onion, thinly sliced or diced (you could blanch these for a minute or so should you wish)
2 small fresh red chillies, deseeded and thinly sliced
Zest of 1 lemon
½ papaya, cubed

60 ml (4 tablespoons) finely sliced chives


First blanch the carrots. You want them only slightly cooked, not overcooked or falling apart. Depending on how thin they are sliced, the cooking time could be two minutes or so, or somewhat longer if they are cut thicker. Once cooked, refresh under cold running water, and set aside. To prepare the dressing, place all the ingredients (except the cornstarch if you are using it) in a small, non-reactive pot. Bring to the boil. Taste for seasoning and correct if necessary. Add the cornstarch, mixed with cold water, and bring the sauce to a boil. Boil for a few minutes for the starch taste to cook out. You can decide whether to add the sauce to the remaining vegetables while still hot, in which case it will wilt the raw vegetables such as celery and green pepper slightly, or you can let the sauce cool and mix it with the vegetables later. Once the salad is completely cool, mix the papaya in carefully, and sprinkle the chive garnish over.