After years of battling it out in a law firm in New York City, Daniyal Mueenuddin decided to give it all up and head back to his homeland, straight to Pakistan’s mango belt. “…mangoes played an important part in my decision,” says the Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of the novel In Other Rooms, Other Wonders (Condé Nast Traveller, April 2011). He describes the “obscenely hot” subcontinental June, and the sun so harsh that it doesn’t look yellow but white. In such a season, the mango orchard was the delicious, leafy haven one looked towards for comfort.
Like Mueenuddin, many subcontinent dwellers would agree on the multifaceted appeal of the mango. The raw mango is the best antidote to heatstroke, a dream in the kitchen, and for people like the author, also a reason to return home.
Mango, or Mangifera Indica, is the “original Indian (or subcontinental) fruit”, says food historian and Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Pushpesh Pant. The word mango comes from the Malayalam word manga and was popularized by the Portuguese. Mango travelled from the subcontinent to East Asia in the fourth and fifth centuries BC, and by the 10th century AD, had made an appearance in East Africa. It later travelled to the Caribbean and Latin American countries, and still later to southern Spain. Despite its global presence today, all its variations in other parts of the world are poor versions of the fruit in its native land, says Prof. Pant. Not surprisingly, Indians seem to be fairly possessive of the fruit. Despite being the largest producer of mangoes, India accounts for less than 1% of the international mango trade, according to a 2006 study by the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
In India, mango signifies birth, fertility and sexuality, and is an auspicious fruit with its leaves being used for worship. The references to mango date back to ancient myths such as the Ramayan. It was the fruit Dashrath and Kaikeyi ate before they had children. According to the ancient Tamil epic Silappadhikaram, the hero and heroine are born from the fruit. “It has been held synonymous with fertility and sexual energy. Kaamdev’s bow has mango blossoms, and the Hindi phrase baurana means to become crazed (also crazed with lust), as well as mango pulp,” says Prof. Pant.
“Crazed” and “lust” are perfectly understandable in the context of a fruit that evokes extreme emotion, and even debate (think of different regions discussing the supremacy of mango varieties). In the kitchen, it is a chef’s delight, blending and mixing into everything from dreamy desserts to light summer dal and heady cocktails. In South-East Asia, they eat it with sticky rice, and in Bengal, milk, mango and a bit of rice is a common summer ritual, says Mumbai-based food writer Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal.
Raw mango makes aam panna, the best summer coolant, according to Prof. Pant; and amiya ki khatti chutney is a delicious route to oral rehydration as opposed to a packet of oral rehydration solution (ORS). In summer, the appetite needs to be worked up as well, and different states have produced their variations of the mango pickle. “Pickle, chutney, murabba are all aperitifs used to work up an appetite,” says Prof. Pant. The biggest therapeutic value of mango can be found in the dried mango powder amchur, the popular souring agent used in northern India. “It combats heatstrokes and stokes the appetite,” says Colin Hall, Ayurveda expert and corporate director of spa resort Ananda in the Himalayas. Ripe mango combined with milk is a complete meal and works like a tonic, says Prof. Pant.
But the best way to eat a mango, perhaps, is completely on its own, says Mueenuddin, “in an orchard, in the hour, almost the minute, when it finally achieves its ripeness”. Or you could try two recipes that use raw and ripe versions of this magnificient fruit.
Make the most of mango
• The best way to combat loose motions, constipation and indigestion is to have a piece of raw sour mango with salt and honey .
• To avoid jaundice and other diseases related to the stomach and liver, eat raw mango pieces with black pepper and honey. Raw mangoes contain more vitamins C and B than ripe mangoes.
• Raw mango with salt helps overcome thirst and reduces the effects of sunstroke in summer.
• A ripe mango and a cup of milk are a complete meal. The sugar in mango and the protein in milk help improve overall health and vigour.
—Ashish Rout, executive chef, Ananda in the Himalayas, Narendra Nagar, Tehri, Garhwal, Uttarakhand.
5g ‘arhar dal’ (pigeon pea)
50g raw mangoes
15-20 curry leaves
1 dry red chilli, whole
1/4 tsp black pepper, whole
1/4 tsp coriander and cumin seeds each
1/2 tsp ginger and garlic each, grated
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
Salt to taste
2 tbsp oil
For the rasam powder: Roast the black pepper, coriander and cumin seeds and grind.
For the mango purée: Boil the raw mangoes. When cooked, squeeze out the pulp. Boil the lentils separately. Now boil the tomatoes with ginger, garlic and ‘rasam’ powder and strain the mixture. Add the raw mango purée and lentils to it. Pour some oil into a wok, and temper with mustard seeds, dry red chilli, curry leaves and turmeric powder, and pour this over the tomato/mango mixture. Add salt to taste and cook for 10 minutes.
—Veena Arora, Imperial Hotel, New Delhi.
(Ripe Mango Curry)
2 ripe mangoes, cut into small pieces
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1 cup water
2 cups thick yogurt
Salt to taste
2-3 curry leaves
For the paste
1 cup fresh coconut, grated
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
2 green chillies
For the seasoning
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
4 dry whole red chillies
2-3 curry leaves
1 tbsp oil
Cook the sliced mango in a cup of water with red chilli powder, turmeric powder and salt, till the fruit is cooked. Mash the mixture, ensuring that half the mango pieces remain intact. Meanwhile, grind the grated coconut, cumin seeds, turmeric powder and green chillies to a paste, along with half the yogurt. Add two-three curry leaves while grinding. This is the base for the ‘pulissery’, or the curry. Whip the remaining yogurt, and add to the cooked mango. Add the coconut paste, and salt as per taste. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for about a minute, taking care that the yogurt does not curdle. Take off the stove.
Heat some oil for seasoning in a pan. Add the mustard seeds. Once they start popping, add the fenugreek seeds, dried red chillies and curry leaves. Pour the seasoning over the mango mixture. Serve with rice.
High in vitamin
Mangoes have a high vitamin content that provides strength and stamina.
Low glycaemic index
Mangoes have a low glycaemic index so they don’t lead to any significant increase in blood sugar level, and consumed in reasonable quantities, do not promote fat accumulation. The sugar in the mango (like any fruit) is natural fructose.
Combats heart disease
High in beta carotene, vitamin E and selenium, mango protects against heart diseases. It is known to make the immune system stronger.
Mangoes contain digestive enzymes that aid digestion and are natural cleansers, reducing body odour.
Mangoes aid in reducing blemishes and give the skin a natural glow.
Raw mango quenches thirst and prevents the loss of vital body salts during summer.
Mangoes strengthen the epithelium tissue, which makes it tough for bacteria to attack the body. Having mangoes in summer prevents infections, such as cold and sinusitis.
—Experts: Colin Hall, Ananda, and Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal, a Mumbai-based food writer and author of the soon to be published MyMumbai Cookbook.