- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 7, 2005

The world’s most popular fruit is neither the apple nor banana, but the mango. The mango is a native of southern Asia. Its species name is Mangifera indica, and it is considered sacred in India. Today, mangoes are grown in most tropical and frost-free subtropical areas and are shipped worldwide.

India is the main producer, but most mangoes that make it to American kitchens come from Mexico, which exports five varieties that, one or another, are available just about year-round, peaking at midsummer. Mangoes are also grown in Florida and California and on Caribbean islands, as well as in Central America and South America.

Mango seeds first made their way to Mexico via the Philippines in the 17th century. Other varieties reached Mexico only during the 19th century, after following a circuitous route through Persia to Africa or Portugal and from there to the West Indies.

Mango varieties differ greatly in both appearance and flavor. The shape can be oblong, kidney-shaped or round, and the skin color ranges from red to golden to green. The flesh, from mellow yellow to deep orange, surrounds a pit that is usually large and flat and follows the form of the fruit. Even before peeling, the aroma hints at the flavor, which carries notes of citrus, pineapple and peach that adds up to something bordering on the sublime.

American consumers tend to like red mangoes, believing they’ll be riper and sweeter, but color is literally only skin deep. A mango’s red blush comes from the sun and gives no indication of ripeness. Some varieties remain yellow or green when ripe. In general, softness and aroma are better indicators of ripeness than color.

Many mangoes acquire a yellow background color as they ripen, but the green varieties remain that color even at the peak of sweet ripeness.

Keep mangoes at room temperature until fully ripened. To speed up the process, place them in a closed paper bag.

To know when a mango is ripe and ready, inhale its aroma near the stem. A fragrant and fruity aroma is a sure sign of a ripe mango. A faint scent means the fruit needs more time to ripen. Gently squeeze it to test. Most mangoes become softer as they ripen.

Once ripe, mangoes should be refrigerated to slow ripening. For fullest flavor, let chilled mangoes reach room temperature before eating. Americans’ red-color belief aside, the favorite mango of aficionados worldwide is the canary-hued Ataulfo, a small flat fruit with a thin skin, delicate spicy-sweet flavor, and buttery texture that is available in the United States from February through May.

Many of us may have tasted the sassy flavor of a mango first in sorbets, smoothies and flavored yogurt. Only one in three Americans has tasted any variety of mango out of hand. To do so, simply peel the fruit and, standing at the kitchen sink, lean forward and take a few bites, letting the perfumed juice drizzle down your chin.

There is a specific technique for cutting mangoes that makes eating them a little less of a mess. Keep in mind that the large flat oval pit follows the outside shape of the fruit. On a board, hold the mango with one of the narrower sides facing up. Starting 1/4 inch from the stem, slice along each side of the pit to cut off the “cheeks.”

With the skin side of the cheeks on the board, cut the flesh crisscross, taking care not to cut through the skin. Press the skin so the fruit pops outward. With a large spoon or knife, remove the mango cubes. Peel the center section and cut off the remaining fruit. (Or skip the “cheek” removal step and with a knife carve out the flesh in a single piece, cutting as close to the skin as possible. Serve whole or cut in slices.)

In some parts of Mexico, street vendors sell whole mangoes peeled and cut decoratively to resemble flower petals and propped on a stick to eat like a Popsicle sprinkled with chili powder and splashed with lime juice.

Mexicans also designed a mango fork with one long tine in the center and two shorter tines on each side to make eating the residual flesh from the seed less messy, once the cheeks have been removed.

Here are some other delicious ways to eat mangoes.

Mango and black bean salad with grilled chicken

1/2 cup prepared vinaigrette salad dressing

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

2 teaspoons grated lime peel

6 boneless skinless chicken breast halves

1 19-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed

1/4 cup chopped red onion

1/4 cup finely chopped jalapeno chili

2 ripe mangoes

Mixed greens, optional

In a small bowl, combine salad dressing, cilantro and lime peel. In a resealable plastic bag, place 1/4 cup of the dressing and chicken breast halves. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl combine black beans, red onion and jalapenos with remaining dressing; set aside.

On a cutting board, hold one of the mangoes with one of the narrower sides facing up. Starting 1/4 inch from the stem, slice along each side of the pit to cut off the “cheeks.” Cut flesh crisscross, taking care not to cut through the skin. Press skin so fruit pops outward. With a spoon or knife, remove the mango cubes. Peel the center section of mango, cut off remaining fruit and chop. Repeat with remaining mango.

Remove chicken from marinade; discard marinade. Grill or broil chicken until cooked through. Toss mangoes with bean mixture. Serve chicken with mango and black bean salad and mixed greens, if desired. Makes 6 servings.

Fresh mango shortcake

1 cup orange juice

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon grated lemon peel

1 ripe mango

4 slices (1/2-inch thick) pound cake

1 pint vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt

1/4 cup chopped macadamia nuts or almonds

Mint leaves for garnish, optional

In a small saucepan combine orange juice, sugar and lemon peel. Bring to a boil over medium heat, reduce heat and simmer until thickened and syrupy, 12 to 15 minutes.

On a cutting board hold mango with one of the narrower sides facing up. Starting 1/4 inch from the stem, slice along each side of the pit to cut off the “cheeks.” Set “cheeks” aside. Peel the center section of mango, cut off fruit and dice. Stir diced mango into the syrup and set aside.

With a knife or large spoon, carve out flesh from reserved cheeks in a single piece, cutting as close to the skin as possible. Thinly slice each cheek, then cut slices in half. Set aside.

To serve, cut cake slices in half, diagonally. On each plate place one cake triangle, top with one scoop of ice cream or frozen yogurt. Place second cake triangle on each plate, leaning against the ice cream. Spoon about 1/4 cup of the mango sauce over ice cream and sprinkle with nuts. Garnish with mango slices and mint leaves, if desired. Makes 4 servings.

Sticky rice with mangoes

This recipe was adapted from “Real Thai” by Nancie McDermott (Chronicle).

1 cup sticky rice (see note)

2 cups unsweetened coconut cream (see note)

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons salt

3 ripe mangoes

Soak sticky rice in cold water to cover by 2 inches for at least 3 hours, or as long as overnight.

Drain rice and transfer to a steamer or a colander or strainer you can suspend above boiling water. Set aside.

Fill bottom of steamer or pot with just enough water so steamer rack or colander sits about 1 inch above water. Bring to a boil. Place rice over water. Cover and reduce heat to maintain a steady flow of steam. Cook 30 to 45 minutes or until the rice swells and glistens and is sticky enough to be squeezed into small lumps. Add boiling water to the pan as needed to maintain original level.

Turn cooked rice out onto a baking sheet. Wet a wooden spoon and quickly and gently spread rice out into a shallow layer to release some of the steam and moisture.

Meanwhile, combine coconut cream, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan and stir well. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stir well and remove from heat.

When rice is ready, transfer it to a large bowl and add the coconut mixture. Stir well, cover and set aside for at least 30 minutes, or until room temperature.

Just before serving, peel and slice the mangoes, removing as much flesh as possible in large pieces. For each serving, arrange a fist-sized portion of coconut rice on a dessert plate along with mango slices. Makes 6 servings.

Note: Sticky rice and coconut cream are available in Asian markets and the Asian sections of some supermarkets.

Mango fool

This recipe is from “Classic Indian Cooking” by Julie Sahni (Morrow).

21/2 cups mango puree (about 2 mangoes)

1 cup milk

3 tablespoons sugar, divided

11/2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 3 tablespoons milk or water

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1/4 cup apricot or peach brandy

1 tablespoon lemon juice

To make the mango puree, remove flesh from the mangoes and discard skin and seed. Puree mangoes in food processor or blender. Pass the puree through a fine sieve to remove all the stringy fiber. Set aside.

Heat milk and 2 tablespoons sugar in a small pan over medium heat. When milk comes to a boil, stir in cornstarch mixture. Cook, stirring, until milk is consistency of thin custard. Cool thoroughly. Stir in mango puree and mix well.

Whip cream until it forms peaks. Stir in almond extract and remaining tablespoon of sugar. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

To assemble, stir brandy and lemon juice into custard mixture. Gently but thoroughly fold in the whipped cream.

Spoon into 8 individual dishes. Chill thoroughly until ready to serve, up to 2 hours.

Makes 8 servings.

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