(photo credit: )
Last November I heard a report on a TV news show that the US would provide nuclear technology to India and, in exchange, India would sell the Americans mangoes. When both the reporter and the show's anchor commented that they like mangoes, their remarks were greeted with laughter.
I thought their little discussion was a joke and forgot about it until a few weeks ago, when I read that mangoes would soon be exported from India to southern California for the first time. Apparently these were no ordinary mangoes, selling for about four times the usual price, and available in only two grocery stores - in Little India, south of Los Angeles.
As mango lovers who haven't been to India yet, my husband and I were curious. We drove to Little India and bought a mango. We followed the advice of our friend Neelam Batra, author of 1000 Indian Recipes: "To make sure a mango is ripe, sniff it; it should be highly aromatic and sweet-smelling... Ripe mangoes give to light pressure when held in your hand. The heavier it is for its size, the juicier the mango."
As it sat on our counter for a few days to ripen, its aroma told us that this mango was something special. And it tasted even better than we expected. Its texture was smooth and its flavor was fabulous, sweet and more complex than that of any mango we had tasted.
Until then, our best mango experience had taken place a few years before, in Israel. We were visiting my husband's cousin Ahuva in Rehovot and she picked some mangoes from the two prolific mango trees in her garden. We sat with Ahuva and some other relatives on her porch and ate mango after mango. The sweet, intense flavor was so appealing that we couldn't stop.
Apparently Ahuva's garden happened to be in a great location for growing mangoes. In discussing types of mangoes, Allen Susser, author of The Great Mango Book, highlighted a variety he called simply "Israel BD 34-80," a name which "designates a row and tree number in a seedling test block just outside Rehovot, Israel. This mango is one of a new generation of hybrids emerging from the few breeding programs" in the world.
Cooks in India have a long history of using this fabulous fruit. India has cultivated mangoes for at least 4,000 years, according to Susser, and is the world's largest producer. Batra wrote that sour, unripe green mangoes are for pickles and chutneys, "but they are not the source of rapture that ripe mangoes are." Perhaps this enchantment with mangoes explains why the Kama Sutra advises lovers to drink the refreshing juice of mango - a sort of natural Indian Viagra.
The season's first mangoes are the focus of a celebration by the tribes of northeastern India. "Before this first-fruit ceremony, it is strictly forbidden to eat mangoes," wrote Susser.
When I make a mango dessert, I choose one that highlights the fruit's flavor and does not overwhelm it. I've seen recipes combining mangoes with cocoa or cinnamon, but I find these seasonings too strong for the fruit's delicate flavor. I do like it with tropical accents like coconut, cardamom or a hint of ginger.
Obviously, mangoes are great in fruit salads and fruit tarts. They also make terrific sorbet, composed of mango puree, sugar syrup and a little lemon juice.
Mangoes marry beautifully with dairy foods. I love them mixed with yogurt, either plain or vanilla. With mango added, even nonfat yogurt becomes a tempting treat, as a dessert on its own or as a sauce for fruit salad. If I get a fibrous mango, I scrape the juicy pulp, without the stringy part, into a small bowl of yogurt. The resulting natural dessert is so much better than any store-bought fruit yogurt.
A popular dessert at India Sweets and Spices, a market and cafe in Los Angeles, is mango shake, a rich blended drink of mangoes, milk and sugar. No ice cream is used in this luscious milk shake. I also like their mango lassi, a similar sweet beverage made with yogurt instead of milk. In the store's refrigerator case, there sometimes is mango shrikhand, a traditional chilled puddinglike dessert of rich sweet yogurt and mango puree.
Indians make mango ice cream by combining the fruit with milk that has been boiled until concentrated, then heated with sugar. The ice cream base is so dense that it freezes smoothly without an ice cream machine. Ran Shinar, author of Indian Cuisine (in Hebrew) flavors his mango ice cream with cardamom and vanilla. He also recommends mango fool, a chilled dessert of sweetened mango puree folded into stiffly whipped cream; it's actually an Indian adaptation of an English fruit dessert.
Sweetened mango puree makes a luscious sauce for vanilla ice cream, cheesecake or sponge cake, or a light, summery alternative to the chocolate sauce that accompanies Israeli-style Bavarian cream.
MANGO AND FRUIT MEDLEY WITH CHEESE MOUSSE AND MANGO SAUCE
The white cheese mousse is easy to prepare but if you want a dessert that's even quicker, substitute vanilla ice cream. If you'd rather make the mousse without uncooked egg whites, substitute 0.5 cup whipping cream; whip it until stiff with the sugar and fold it into the cheese. Or, for a lower fat alternative to whipped cream, stir sour cream (without whipping it) or plain or vanilla yogurt into the cheese mixture.
700 gr. ripe mangoes, peeled and cut in chunks about 0.25 cup powdered sugar, sifted about 2 tsp. fresh strained lemon juice
0.5 kg. ripe mangoes
0.5 kg. mixed other fruit, such as bananas, grapes, melon and plums
juice of 1 lemon
2 Tbsp. sugar, or to taste
White Cheese Mousse:
1 cup smooth white cheese, rich or low- fat
1 tsp. vanilla or 1 to 2 Tbsp. orange liqueur
5 to 6 Tbsp. sugar, or to taste
3 egg whites
For the sauce: Puree mango chunks in a food processor or blender. Add 0.25 cup powdered sugar. Process until very smooth. Taste, and add more powdered sugar if needed; whisk it in thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Add lemon juice.
For the salad: Peel and cut the mango into cubes, and the other fruit into slices or cubes; leave grapes whole. Put fruit in a serving dish, preferably a clear one. Sprinkle with lemon juice and sugar and mix gently. Cover and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
A short time before serving, make the mousse: Beat the cheese with the vanilla and half the sugar. In another bowl whip the egg whites until medium-stiff peaks form. Add the remaining sugar while beating, and continue whipping to stiff, shiny peaks. Fold beaten whites gently into cheese mixture. Taste and add more sugar if you like. Pour over the fruit and serve cold, with the mango sauce in a separate dish.
Makes 6 servings.
Faye Levy is the author of Dessert Sensations.