Left alone with an Alphonso, most of us would grab a bib and gnaw the fruit gracelessly to the kernel, till it shone bald. Not so Joy Bhattacharya. He would throw bits of it on a plate, mix it with lime-soaked tabouleh and serve it up with pan-fried prawns. And just to make the point, make sure the prawns were marinated in a hot paste with raw mangoes ground into it. If you think that sounds outlandish, it is precisely what the executive chef is serving up at the Hilton Towers restaurants this summer for the annual mango promotion.
As a picky mango lover, Bhattacharya would settle for the humble, melon-sized Rajapuri that makes great chhundo, the sweet-sour Gujarati pickle. Or the little-known Himsagars from Bengal. But at work, the executive chef of Hilton Towers in Mumbai needs a variety that suits his experiments in the kitchen. The
tiresomely delicious Alphonso, which, unlike other mangoes, rarely surprises you with a sour core.
The trick, says Bhattacharya, is to be outlandish without upsetting the palate.
“You could use the sweet taste of the mangoes to cut the sourness of the tabouleh mix or use the sourness of a raw fruit to enhance the bland taste of the prawns. Mangoes blend wonderfully with seafood. Even lamb tastes great with mango because it reduces the denseness of the meat,” he says.
The chef points out that exotic as they seem, at the root of all his recipes is a grandmother’s preparation. His chilled mango and buttermilk soup is a Kerala manga pulliseri in a bowl minus the trappings of a mustard-fenugreek-curry leaves seasoning. And his burnt raw mango soup with kalakhatta sorbet could remind you of an aam panna that went to France. No wonder then that Kerala lobsters landed on a pizza Bhattacharya has conjured up with slithers of sun-dried Alphonsos—a herby version of the lowly aam papad. Or that he lets batter-fried ripe mango bits add the surprise element in a plate of stir-fried prawns.
The ideas may seem whacky to the Indian situation, but the Eurasian cuisine uses mangoes quite liberally in its dishes, blending the sweetness of the fruit into seafood, chicken and lamb. And this is the flavour that executive chef Stephen Toe is seeking to recreate at the JW Marriott in Mumbai. That Bekti curry with mango and coconut from Alapuzha, he says, has distant cousins in Malaysia, the Pacific—the Philippines, for instance— and the Caribbean.
“These countries use a lot of mangoes in seafood dishes, especially Malaysia, which combines Malay, Indian and European influences,” says Toe, who steers clear of familiar Indian uses for the fruit at the Lotus Cafe. He has also reprised what I like to think is a fancy version of an impromptu raw mango salad my grandmother would toss up in a coconut shell just to create some drama for her drooling granddaughters—tiny mango bits, mixed with sea salt, crushed red chillies and a few drops of coconut oil. Only, Toe’s raw mango goes into a tandoor and is dusted with powdered sugar to balance the extreme sourness.
“Mangoes go really well with spices and red chillies,” he says. You see more such mating of tastes in dishes like the mango and Thai chilli spring roll with honey basil dip and stir-fried spicy mango and rice sticks salad with mince chicken.
The Grand Hyatt in Mumbai doesn’t have a special mango promotion, but its summer menu this month is sprinkled with mango starters, salads and desserts. Executive chef Andreas Kampl says European restaurant kitchens combine mangoes with meats such as venison, but in the Indian heat, recipes like these are avoidable. He prefers to serve up raw mango slivers with a spicy honey dip or tossed with red chillies, coriander and fish sauce.
Stirred into various base spirits, mangoes can make great cocktails. And this time of the year, you can dispense with the canned pulp.
At the Oberoi, Bangalore, in the heart of the city, summer is always celebrated with mangoes. All of April, the city waits for the news of the impending monsoon for assurance that the ripe mango crop will arrive in the market on time. So when S.K. Sreekanth, the joint director of horticulture, city corporation, confirmed that the annual mango festival in the city will be held from 1 June to 15 June, the Bangalorean mango lover heaved a sigh of relief. It is a sign that the maavina chutneys and mavavinakayi pickles of early summer will give way to the ripe fruits. And Oberoi announced the start of its mango-centric menu.
Mango will feature in the drinks and desserts at the Polo Club, the divine open-air bar at the hotel, where the upholstery matches the colour of the season’s favourite fruit. The Hilton in Mumbai has mango margaritas and martinis lined up and Marriott experiments with the fruit in its daiquiris.
The one place ripe mangoes fit in smoothly with no great effort or imagination is desserts. Mosaic Hotel in Delhi has lined up a long list for this summer. Some of these are: mango panna cotta with strawberry coulis, mango cheesecake, and mango cream brulee with almond tuli. Apart from that, Mosaic is mixing mangoes with tangy condiments to create chutneys and pickles, many of them traditional recipes such as kache aam ki khatti chatni, and kache aam ki launj.
Pan-roasted lamb cutlet with raw mango and chorizo risotto
12 pieces of lamb chops
2 tbsp cooking oil
Salt and pepper to taste
120ml pepper jus
24 pieces of asparagus spears
1 tbsp of olive oil
12 pods of roasted garlic
4 prosciutto chips
Heat oil in a pan. Season the chops and fry in the pan. Once seared, turn down the heat and slow cook. Spoon the risotto onto a plate and arrange the lamb. Garnish with olive oil-tossed asparagus spears and garlic pods. Ladle pepper jus and arrange the prosciutto chips.
For the chorizo risotto:
240gm of Arborio rice
3 tbsp chopped shallots
30ml olive oil
100ml white wine
500ml chicken stock
80gm grated raw mango
4 pieces of diced chorizo
In a double-bottomed pan, saute shallots, grated mangoes and chorizo. Add the rice and fry for a while. Pour wine and reduce. Gradually pour chicken stock and allow the rice to cook. Blend in the butter and check for seasoning.
Mango chunks with baked yogurt
150gm drained yogurt
200gm fresh cream
50gm reduced milk
2 diced ripe mangoes
1 vanilla bean
Mix all the ingredients except the mango bits in a baking bowl. Add the mangoes and bake at 180°C for two minutes in a water bath. Refrigerate for four hours and serve, garnished with more mango bits.
50ml aged rum
1 mango, peeled, seeded and chopped
Splash of Cointreau
10ml cranberry juice
30ml mango juice
Dash of bitters
A few sprigs of mint, chopped
Blend all the ingredients in a mixer with lots of crushed ice. Pour into a tall glass and garnish with the cheek of a ripe Alphonso.
Burnt mango soup with kalakhatta sorbet
(Serves 4-6 portions)
1kg raw mangoes
200gm chopped onions
8gm crushed garlic
8gm garlic salt
800ml chicken stock
80ml fresh cream
5gm fresh thyme
60ml orange juice
For the kalakhatta sorbet:
160ml sweet lime juice
15-20gm black salt
For the sorbet, whisk in the above ingredients, churn and chill.
For the soup:
Char the mango in a clay oven until it’s soft to the core, remove skin and blend. Saute shallots and crushed garlic, add the fresh thyme and the orange juice, reduce and then add the mango puree. Pour in the chicken stock and simmer slowly for 15-20 minutes till the flavours mix. Puree in a blender and pass through a sieve. Bring the mixture back to a boil and finish with fresh cream and garlic salt. Chill in the refrigerator for 6-8 hours and serve chilled with a cube of the sorbet.
Seema Chowdhry Sharma in Delhi and Sumana Mukherjee in Bangalore contributed to this article