Mangoes – Not Just Bathtub Food

Everyone in India looks forward to the mango season. Mangoes are posh food. They’re expensive because they have a very limited season, they’re difficult to grow and don’t travel well but the poshness comes mainly from their rich and unusual flavour. You have mango connoisseurs who recognize the taste and smell of the different varieties, and know from where they come and when to eat them. Travelling anywhere in India in the mango season, half the luggage on conveyer belts or on coolie’s heads consists of boxes and baskets of mangoes.

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Kesar, Badami Safeda, Lal Bagh and Alphonso

I’m one of those rare Indians who knows very little about mangoes and gets very confused between the different varieties. I eat them but a whole mango season could go past without realizing I hadn’t had one. I am a recent convert. I discovered the Alphonso. This variety grows all along the west of India. Earlier, whenever I’d eaten Alphonsos in Delhi, I couldn’t understand the fuss; they tasted like petrol. Maybe they don’t travel very well. But I had a try again here in Bombay and they are GLORIOUS. Rich, intense flavour with a perfect sweet and tart balance …. basically I loved it. My plan now is to give other mangoes another shot.

Alphonso are called Apoos in Konkani and Haapus in Marathi and Gujarati. They are named after Afonso de Albuquerque (1453-1515) who was a Portuguese general. He had various titles – Governor and Captain-General of the Seas of India, Viceroy of India, First Duke of Goa, which says it all. There’s a long piece about him on Wikipedia, which covers all his colonizing and trading conquests – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afonso_de_Albuquerque

My father was part of a large family of siblings and his father would bring back 20 seers of mangoes in baskets. One seer is a little less than a kilo. A galvanized iron tub would be set up in the courtyard and a slab of ice (brought wrapped up in a jute sack) would be broken into it. There were no refrigerators then and when they couldn’t get any ice they would use well water, which was cool.

The family would sit around the tub and eat mangoes and drink kacchi lassi which is a lassi made with milk and water. The mango they loved was called chusa, which means to suck. It’s a tiny mango; you take the end off it and suck out the pulp straight into your mouth.

Mr Leakey, in J B S Haldane’s book, My Friend Mr Leakey recommends that “the only proper place to eat a mango is in your bath”                                                              So what do you do with a mango when you’re not eating it in the bath? As desserts, mangoes are great with and as ice cream, with fresh cream (my favourite), lassi and juices and as shrikhand (a Gujarati yoghurt dessert). I’m not a big fan of mango cheesecakes, soufflés, mousse and tarts, it just doesn’t work but that’s a personal opinion. Mangoes are great as a savoury; as a curry, added to dal, chutney, pickles, and sweet and sour juices like Aam ka Panna.

The first recipe is a chutney from Andhra Pradesh called Gurumba. Our last cook, Ratna taught me how to make it and it’s delicious with rice and dal, with maybe a vegetable or some fried fish – simple village food. Yummy.

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Chawli (Amaranth) Sabzi, Gurumba and Masoor Dal (Red Lentils) on Rice

Gurumba – Mango Chutney from Andhra Pradesh made with Alphonso Mangoes

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Ingredients

2 mangoes

1 small raw mango, including the seed or ½ a lime if you can’t get one

I tablespoon vegetable oil

2 dry red chillies

1 teaspoon fennel (saunf)

salt to taste

Method

Eat the mango and save the seed with some of the flesh around it. Remove the skin of the raw mango and chop very roughly. Break the chillies into small pieces.

Heat the oil in a small wok or frying pan, add the chillies and cook till they start darkening. Add the fennel. Cook till you can smell the fennel and it starts darkening as well and then add the mangoes. Add a little salt.

Cook covered for about 10 minutes. Ratna used to put a bit of water on the lid. I’m a chicken so I put some water into the gurumba to stop it from burning.

Remove the lid and cook for another 2 minutes to let any liquid dry up.

(If you can’t get raw mango then squeeze ½ a lime into the chutney after it’s finished cooking. It should have a sweet and sour taste.

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Aam Ka Panna

-will make enough for 8-10 glasses

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Clockwise – Mint, Raw Mangoes, Gur/Jaggery, Rock Salt, powdered Rock Salt and Roasted Cumin

My beautiful block of Gur/Jaggery

Ingredients

2 large raw mangoes

½ cup regular sugar +1/2 cup jaggery (gur) (or 1 cup regular sugar)

2 teaspoons black/rock salt

2 teaspoons roasted cumin powder

½ cup mint leaves

water

ice

Method

Peel the mangoes, slice them and put into a saucepan. Just cover the mangoes with water and put them to boil. Add the two types of sugar and cook till the mangoes are almost mush. Add the mint and cook for a few more minutes. Let it cool.

When cool, blend in a blender. Add the rock salt and roasted cumin.  Put about 4-5 big spoons of the mango pulp into a glass, add some ice and top up with cold water.

Aam ka Panna is drunk in the summer in North India to cool you down. It has been so hot here in Bombay and we’re off to even hotter weather in Delhi …. we need it.

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Notes-

If you can’t get rock salt then use regular salt and regular sugar to replace the gur/ jaggery