by Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff
I love and support organic and locally grown food. However, for a good mango, I would drive miles to a specialty shop or an ethnic food market! The best mangoes only come from faraway countries, such as India and the Philippines. In this column I will give a short history of the mango, the king of fruits. Then I will discuss how to select good mangoes and how to cut them, followed by two quick mango recipes.
Native to India, mangoes have been enjoyed by humans for millennia. K.T. Achaya, a food historian, writes that the mango is mentioned in old Sanskrit writings of Upanishada some 1000 BCE. It is called “Amra” which resembles “Aam,” the current Hindi word for mango.
There are many songs and poems found in ancient Indian languages describing the beauty, aroma and taste of mangoes. Beautifully illustrated images of mangoes are found in Indian literatures. In Indian culture, mangoes are a symbol of good luck and fertility and are used in ceremonies such as weddings.
Since the fourth century BCE, travelers, traders, monks and rulers have taken the popular mango from India to other warm-climate countries to cultivate. Currently, there are more than 1,000 varieties of mangoes grown in India and throughout the world. It is difficult to limit a list just a few great mangoes, but here are some that you may find here at specialty stores or can be ordered online.
Among Indian varieties, Alphonso is the king, big and flavorful. Langra is delicious and Bumbai is very sweet. My personal favorite is a small Gujarati mango called Kesar, sometimes found at Indian stores in New York City. You roll this soft, juicy mango in your palm for a few minutes, remove the top nob with your teeth and simply suck the juice in your mouth. Delicious!
Here in the U.S., I prefer to buy organic mangoes, because imported fruits may have been heavily sprayed. Organic Alphonso mangoes from India can be ordered online during the summer. But the organic Ataulfo, and organic Manilla mangoes from Mexico (both derived from a Philippine mango strain) are more easily found at many health food stores in the Bay Area. So is the organic Tommy Atkins from Mexico (derived from Indian mangoes). And they are all quite good. You can find more varieties of mangoes grown in Central and South America in markets in Florida and New York. If you want to taste a wide variety of the best mangoes, you need to catch a plane to India!
In addition to being a delicious fruit, the mango is also a healthy food. Mangoes are rich in dietary fiber and low in calories, making it a perfect snack. Mangoes are rich in vitamins A, C and E. and a good source of vitamin B6, folate and potassium. Vitamin A maintains good vision and healthy skin. Vitamins C and E are beneficial to heart health and blood vessels. Folate boosts the immune system and potassium helps to control blood pressure. In addition, the antioxidants present in mangoes can protect us against colon, breast and prostate cancers.
How to select a mango:
Mangoes from Mexico are available here year-around, but they are more flavorful in the late spring and summer. Purchase the mangoes that are ripe and somewhat soft, but not limp. In India, the mangoes that smell ripe is the sure sign of doneness. The imported mangoes that are ripened after traveling do not have that aroma. Hard, unripe mangoes can be ripened, by placing them in a paper bag for few days in a warm spot in the kitchen.
How to cut a mango:
There are several ways to cut mangoes to obtain its flesh and remove its skin and the large pit. Here is one easy method that works well. Stand the fruit on a cutting board holding it with one hand along the long side. Using your other hand, cut the mango with a sharp knife to get several large wedges, separating them from the pit while being careful not to pierce the pit. Discard the pit. Next, with a paring knife, cut the wedges into smaller strips. Remove the skin from the strips and discard. Now the strips are ready to be used, or cut them into chunks if required for the recipe.
Mango Lassi: A heavenly tropical drink
Lassi is a popular Indian beverage similar to a smoothie. It is made with yogurt or buttermilk, and often sweetened with a fruit and/or sugar and served chilled with ice. My favorite is the mango lassi. Lassi is now easily available out of India as many Indian restaurants have opened abroad. I find most restaurants over-sweeten their lassi. They often use canned mangoes, and they usually do not offer a dairy-free option. Here is a healthy vegan lassi recipe. I like organic, good quality coconut yogurt (such as Gts. Cocoyo) that does not impart too much coconutty flavor, but other mild vegan yogurts can work. You can change the ratio of the fruit to “yogurt.”
2 large or 4 small very ripe mangoes to obtain about 4 cups when cubes
(the mango should be soft enough to form small dimples when poked)
2 cups (or more) unflavored yogurt, buttermilk or coconut yogurt, or any mild plant-based “yogurt”
1½ or 2 cups of water
¼ cup or more sugar, honey or sweetener of your choice
Place mango cubes, yogurt or dairy-free “yogurt,” water and the sweetener in a jar of a blender or a food processor. Blend the mixture into a fine smoothie, adding more water as needed to obtain a thick and silky consistency. Taste to correct sweetness. Place two ice cubes into each of four tall glasses. Divide and pour lassi into glasses and garnish with some fresh mint leaves. Serve lassi with chips and salsa or with some crackers and a freshly made chutney as a snack (Recipe below). Or, serve chilled lassi as a light dessert after a meal.
Lazy Lassi: If you do not have good quality, fresh mangoes, a quick lassi can be made using canned mangoes or frozen vegan mango sorbet with yogurt of your choice. Both canned mangoes and sorbets are usually sweetened, so you will not need to add sugar.
Avocado and mango chutney
1 large or 2 small ripe Manilla mangoes
1 large or 2 small ripe Haas avocadoes
2 tablespoons finely minced scallion (green onion) with some of its greens
2 to 3 tablespoons minced cilantro (after removing large stems), leaving a few uncut sprigs aside
1 teaspoon finely minced jalapeno or serrano pepper (after removing seeds and thick veins)
1 teaspoon finely grated ginger root (optional). Use the fine teeth of a cheese grater or a ginger grater*
1 tablespoon of freshly squeezed lime juice
¼ to ½ teaspoon or less salt
First cut the mango into chunks, following the method described above. Set the fruit aside. Next, cut the avocado into halves and remove the pits, saving one pit. Set avocado halves aside. Prepare the next three minced ingredients as listed above and set them aside. Have the optional ginger and lime juice ready.
Scoop out the flesh from the avocado halves with a spoon or a butter knife and discard the skin. Collect the flesh into a mixing bowl. Using two forks, mash the avocado into a coarse puree, leaving some lumps. Then add the minced herbs, the optional ginger*, lime juice and ¼ teaspoon salt. Next, fold two thirds of the mango chunks in with the avocado and leave the other chunks for garnish. Taste to adjust the flavors, adding more lime juice or salt, if needed. Transfer the chutney into a serving bowl and garnish it with mango chunks. Stick the reserved avocado pit in the chutney, as it helps prevent discoloration of the avocado. When ready to serve, take out the pit. Garnish the chutney with a few cilantro twigs on top. Serve the chutney right away with chips, crackers or toasted slices of pita bread and a glass of lassi, beer or wine.
To keep the chutney in the refrigerator for later use, place more mango chunks on top and sprinkle more lime juice. This will help the chutney from discoloring. Mix well before serving.
* Note: I add the ginger to give the dish an additional chutney flavor, but you can skip it, if you like.
Recipe adopted from “Cooking Together: a Vegetarian Co-op Cookbook” ©2017 Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff.
Shanta is a Sunset District resident and the author of “Cooking Together” and “Flavors of India,” both available at Other Avenues Food Co-op., Green Apple Book Store, Rainbow Grocery Co-op, and at other local bookstores. Shanta writes recipes and articles on food and teaches cooking classes. Currently she shares her recipes via videos on YouTube. To view the video of this recipe, go to the website of Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture or CUESA; www.cuesa.org. Click on Eating Seasonally and then Seasonal recipes.
Categories: Cooking Together