This is certainly the hottest summer I have experienced in India in 20 years and it’s only just past April. May used to be the month for mangoes and morbid heat. Global warming is hitting us hard and fast and if we don’t all watch Al Gore’s documentary on the subject and get ourselves a collective conscience, there will be little point writing on delectable dishes because there won’t be much available. How dismal is that prospect?
Let us console ourselves that mangoes are still available, albeit in smaller quantities this year, I have been reliably informed. This means that prices will be much higher. As I write this, I can hear thunder and, more than likely, another downpour (we had our first a few days ago), which means even fewer Alphonso mangoes. The saying on the west coast of India is that you must eat your last Alphonso as soon as the rains begin. From then onwards, the seeds start to cobweb and you get a delicious but fragmented fruit that often rots from the inside.
Although there is no fat in a mango, it’s a high-carb fruit, thanks to all that natural sugar. It also contains a heap of vitamin C. So, if you are not really worried too much about calories, you can go ahead and splurge.
Eating a mango must be one of life’s true pleasures; it is delicious, with a creamy sensual texture and soul satisfying at the same time. When I was living in London in the 1970s, I saw mangoes appear one day on the fruit shelves of Marks & Spencer. Two weeks later, they had stickers on them with instructions on how to eat them: peel, cut into pieces and so on. Apparently, people were biting into them, with the skin, like an apple, and then complaining about the fruit.
Mango is native to India and, unlike many things which came here from the New World, the mango was one thing the Portuguese actually took back to South America and Africa. There are hundreds of varieties and uses. In the West, trendy chefs are now using it in salads with chicken and seafood and in chutney form to add sweetness and flavour to barbecues and roasts. Desserts with mango are legendary. I especially like the way every region in India has its own mango pickle and raw mango chutneys. I recently had one in Ahmedabad, made with ground raw mango, jaggery, chilli and onion.
As far as varieties go, the king is Alphonso. I say that proudly since I come from the west coast of India. But I have to say that, over the years, I have been disappointed by the Alphonso. You have to get your hands on really good ones for the experience to be memorable. The owners of the Cidade de Goa hotel in Goa have managed to identify Alphonso orchards which produce fantastic, organic fruit. They also grow on their property the much underrated Goan variety, Mancorade, which is fragrant and truly wonderful. A common, not so sought after variety I love is the Banganapali from Tamil Nadu. These are sweet, inexpensive fruit and are available in season all along the streets of Chennai.
This week, I share with you one of my all-time favourite recipes, Chicken with Mango Mayonnaise, a deliciously wicked summer recipe. If you can get hold of smoked duck, it is even better than chicken. Use Alphonso or any flavoursome ripe mango, which isn’t stringy.
Chicken in Mango Mayonnaise
A superior chicken or duck salad.
400gm chicken breast (boneless), roasted or pan-fried and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 red peppers, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 to 6 red radishes, cut into rounds
100gm water chestnuts (singada), fresh or tinned, cut into rounds
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1-1/2 tsp Madras curry powder
1 large fresh mango, cut into cubes (discard seed)
1/4 cup mango juice
For the dressing, mix mayonnaise roughly with the mango pieces and the curry powder. Add mango juice. Reserve a few good slices of radish for garnish. Mix rest of the ingredients with the dressing and arrange on a platter. Garnish with red radish and serve chilled on a bed of lettuce.
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