Raw mangoes are versatile additions to salads, drinks and even dals
From a simple brine to a complex mix of spices, there is a raw mango pickle in most regional cuisines of India
I am not a fan of curd rice. But let me quickly edit to add that if you give me some maavaduthanni (which is what I call the savoury, tart liquor that is part of this mango pickle) on the side, I can eat a big bowl of curd rice without a murmur. Adding maavadu pickle (baby raw mangoes in brine, fermenting over months) to curd rice makes for a probiotic-rich bowl that our gut is happy to receive. Small, tender raw mangoes are combined with salt, red chilli powder, crushed mustard seeds and turmeric powder. The moisture from the raw mangoes is drawn out by the salt over two weeks. This mouth-watering pickle is ready when the baby mangoes have shrunk and there is a pool of chilli, turmeric and mustard flavoured brine in the bottle.
I recall the trips to the local markets in Mumbai with my grandmother during the raw mango season. An entire section is usually dedicated to these vendors, who also provide the service of chopping the raw mangoes in accordance with your pickle-making requirement—from a tiny dice to large chunks and everything in between.
If winters are for mixed vegetable pickles, summers are incomplete without avakkai. While this is a traditional fiery Andhra pickle, my aunt has a recipe that is kind to people like me whose spice tolerance is rather low. It has a smattering of black chana (chickpeas) thrown in for added texture and surprise. Each chunk of raw mango is lusciously coated with a gravy that has come together with the melding of the spice powders and sesame oil. My other favourite raw mango pickle has the pungency of mustard oil, with aromatics like fennel, nigella and fenugreek seeds.
My memories of raw mangoes take me to right outside my primary school gate in Walkeshwar, Mumbai. During lunch hour, my friends used to crowd around the stand of this elderly man who would sell all kinds of sour fruits like raw mangoes, amla (gooseberry), tamarind, karonda, ber and starfruit. In retrospect, this was the perfect way to get a mega dose of vitamin C from natural sources. During raw mango season, he would slice up a raw mango, arrange it on a newspaper square and sprinkle it with a mix of salt and red chilli powder. Just watching him prepare this was enough to send one’s salivary glands into hyperactive mode.
Mavinakayi chitranna, or mango rice, is a Karnataka speciality prepared during Ugadi. Raw mango is also a key ingredient in the preparation of Ugadi pachadi in Andhra culture; it’s a mix of six flavours—the others being tamarind, jaggery, neem flowers, chilli and salt.
In peak summers, raw mangoes are my favourite ingredient to make refreshing salads, drinks and even dals. I learnt the recipe for aam panna from my aunt, who always stocks up a bottle of this home-made concentrate in the fridge. The fire-roasted method gives the drink an unusual smoky flavour, highlighted even more with the addition of roasted cumin powder. Prepare a pitcher of this to make gin- and vodka-based cocktails for a crowd.
A festive rice dish from Karnataka flavoured with raw mangoes
3-4 dried chillies (for more colour, less heat, use Byadagi or Kashmiri chillies)
1 tbsp jaggery
1/4tsp turmeric powder
2 tbsp groundnut oil
A pinch of asafoetida
1 tbsp urad dal
1 tbsp chana dal
1/3 cup peanuts, or broken cashew nuts
1 tsp mustard seeds
6-8 fenugreek seeds
1 sprig of curry leaves
1 dried red chilli, broken
Cook the rice using a preferred method, taking care not to overcook it. Remove and spread out on a plate.
In a small mixer, grind the raw mango, coconut, red chillies, jaggery, turmeric and salt to a coarse paste.
Heat oil in a large pan. Stir in the asafoetida. Fry urad dal, chana dal and peanuts (or cashew nuts) until the dals turn golden brown. Add mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, curry leaves, red chilli and fry until the seeds crackle.
Transfer the prepared paste to the pan and fry on low heat for 5-6 minutes.
To this, add the cooked rice and gently mix it without crushing the rice. Once all the rice has been coated with the spice paste and tempering, cover and steam for 3-4 minutes on a low flame.
Remove and serve hot.
You can also prepare this dish using foxtail or kodo millet.
Fire-Roasted Aam Panna
An all-natural raw mango drink with a smoky flavour Makes 5-6 glasses
1 large raw mango (about 350g)
1/2 cup raw cane sugar, or powdered jaggery
1/2 cup water 3-4 ice cubes
1/3 tsp roasted cumin powder
1/2 tsp black salt
A few mint leaves for garnish
Roast the raw mango directly over a flame, rotating periodically until the skin is charred. A knife poked in should pass through the flesh.
Peel off the skin and extract all the pulp into a mixer jar. To this, add the sugar and K cup water and blend into a purée. Transfer this to a saucepan and bring to a simmer. The concentrate for the aam panna is ready. This can be kept in a sealed bottle in the refrigerator for up to one week. You can also add green cardamom powder to the concentrate.
To prepare, mix 1 part concentrate with 1 part water, 3-4 ice cubes, black salt and roasted cumin powder.
A quicker method to prepare this is to pressure-cook peeled and diced raw mango along with sugar and water for 1-2 whistles. Purée this and add the spices, dilute with water as required.
Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer is the author of The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian.