With my hand on heart, mangoes have to be the best thing to look forward in the hot summer months in India. For Indians (especially those from Bombay) living abroad, I could safely state that alphonso mangoes is one thing that they miss the most among other things. So while mangoes are exported widely and you get a wide variety in the US and Europe, there is nothing quite like the Alphonso. It beautiful golden skin, almost perfect paisley shape and the sweet perfume that permeates through Indian homes when in season is unmatched. Little surprise, that it is the ‘king of fruits’.
As a child, I vividly recollect how we would anxiously wait for mangoes to appear in the local markets. For some reason, the hot air, long days and free spiritedness that was integral to summer holidays would create the perfect ambience to savour the luscious golden fruit for breakfast, lunch, dinner and anytime in between. While all other mangoes are sold in kilos, the Alphonso would and till date continues to be sold in dozens, carefully wrapped in dry hay inside wooden crates, each typically holding about 4-6 dozens, reflecting how precious and prized they are. Alphonsos are usually picked raw and allowed to ripen leisurely in warm hay piles which develops the deep flavour and sweetness of the fruit quite unlike anything else. Buying mangoes is almost a ritual at home and every summer, my Dad (a self-proclaimed expert) and I go to the pop up shops that arrive in season, to pick the best Alphonsos, a mix of ripe and raw ones, carefully wrapped in hay and packed in cartons and carried home with a child like excitement, ready to be devoured.
The variety of mangoes available between April to June is mind boggling: each known by a different Indian name for which there is no English equivalent. Every type has a unique shape, colour, flavour and taste and I learned to recognise them early on given my love for my favourite fruit… Totapuri (a little sweet and sour and used for instant pickles or simply dipped in a mixture with equal parts of salt and chilli sold on ), Badami ( sweet with a hint of almond flavour), Kesari ( Saffron Flavoured), Langda ( Green on the outside but yellow inside), Rumani ( large round ones with a small seed usually found in south India), Payari ( juicy ones) and other dozens of varieties. Apparently there are 400 varieties of this much loved fruit across the world! It is quite interesting to read the origin and etymology: apparently the word Mango itself originates from the Tamil word ‘Manga’ and was first recorded in Italian language in 1510. Mangoes have been grown for thousands of years in the Indian sub-continent with half of the world’s mangoes getting produced in India alone.
Aamras ( translated as Aam – Mango, Ras – juice), traditionally a Gujarati dish, is essentially pureed mango, flavoured with a little sugar, cardamom or saffron and served as part of a main meal during the summer months. It acts as a wonderful antidote to the hot and spicy food around the thali, which is a large traditional Indian plate with bowls filled with a variety of vegetables, lentils, salad, poppadums and sweets. Aamras is usually made from the pulp of Alphonso mango as the rich dense flesh of golden goodness with the unmistakable flavour lends itself beautifully to the rich silk texture of aamras. However, due to the almost prohibitive cost of Alphonsos, aamras is sometimes made by combining the puree with that of another variety called Payari which is quite juicy. I have taken this much loved dish and given it my own twist with a hint of chillies with a result that was quite unexpected. The affinity of mango to chilli works beautifully with the piquancy cutting through the smooth sweet flesh and in the process allowing one to eat more of the same without being cringingly sweet. Typically, one would add sugar to the puree but you really don’t need to add any sugar unless your mango is not sweet enough.
This dish can be as much a part of a main meal and would serve equally well as a dessert just on its own or as a sauce with scoops of vanilla ice-cream. In the hot summer afternoons, when its too warm to cook, this is the go to dish for me with steaming puffed rotlis dripping with clarified butter ( ultra -thin whole wheat tortillas) and may be a salad, followed by a short afternoon siesta…that is bliss!! Say no more.
- Ripe mangoes – 3-4 ( preferably Alphonso)
- Red chilli – 1, slit, de-seeded and finely chopped
- Full fat milk or single cream – 1/2 cup, optional
- Salt – a small pinch, optional
The easiest technique to prepare mangoes is to do it the ‘hedgehog’ way. To do this, run the knife along either side of the big stone found in the centre of the mango. What you will end up with are two semi circles of mango slices and a round centre slice around the seed. Make deep perpendicular scores at 1 inch gaps through the mango slice up to the skin, not all the way through, such that you end up with square cuts. Slightly twist the mango slice upwards and you will see the cubes bulge out. Slice these into a clean bowl to end up with lovely diced mangoes with minimum fuss. Repeat for all mangoes;
Place the cubed mangoes with a pinch of salt in a blender and whizz till you get a really smooth and silky puree. This should take you no more than a minute or so. The consistency should be of a thick sauce, almost to coat the back of a spoon. If its too thick, add a little cream or milk to thin it slightly if required. If you add too much milk, you will end up with a milkshake which is not the idea. Some varieties of mangoes tend to be fibrous or stringy, in which case strain the puree through a nylon sieve to get a lovely smooth finish.
Stir in the chopped chilli and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour before serving. This is traditionally served with hot puris ( fried Indian bread) or phulkas (rotis cooked on an open flame) dripping with clarified butter as an accompaniment to an elaborate Indian meal. This really is so easy, no excuses to not give it a go and if you do, post your comments and let me know. Yum is the word!
- Mangoes will tend to oxidise once cut and left open for too long – so try not to leave it unattended or if you intend to do so, cover it with a cling wrap and refrigerate till you are ready to use;
- If you want to make it the traditional way, just cut out the chilli and instead flavour with half a teaspoon of crushed cardamom or a few strands of saffron soaked in milk;
- Treat them gently – they tend to bruise quite easily, especially the Alphonso;