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Marvelous Mango
Now is the time to relish this luscious fruit from lush lands

At Typhoon!, bright, fresh mango offers complementary warmth to the soothing cool of sticky rice and coconut milk in this traditional Thai dessert.
Biting into a perfectly ripe peach, a Red Haven from a Seattle farmers' market last summer, I reflected on the similarities to mango. Both fruits have sunset colors on the outside, juicy, golden flesh and a honeyed taste balanced by a tinge of acidity.

Many will agree, though, that a mango has a few more notes to its flavor, a richness that has it to be called the king of fruit. Only relatively recently have we been able to make such a comparison, thanks to our modern food-distribution system. In earlier centuries, people in cooler climates had to rely on travelers for ecstatic descriptions of tropical fruit. A 17th-century European traveler writing about mango professed that "for taste, the nectarine, peach and apricot fall far short," and an 18th-century traveler reported that the mango "is the wholesomest and best tasted of any fruit in the world."

It was about that time when this fruit native to India and Southeast Asia was reaching the New World. The Portuguese brought the mango to Brazil and the West Indies in the 18th century; in the 19th century, it was introduced to Hawaii, Mexico and Florida. In its native lands, the mango has been cultivated and prized for millennia, consumed both green and ripe. The sour, unripe mango is used in curries and condiments while the sweet, ripe mango is used in desserts or eaten plain. In India, dried green-mango powder, called amchur, is employed as a souring agent in cooking.

In other parts of the world, people are accustomed to eating only the ripe fruit. But awareness of the mango's many culinary uses is expanding. In northern California, I sampled a dessert soup made from fresh mango and decorated with swirls of cream and raspberry sauce. In Seattle, an Eastside chef serves a salsa of mango combined with cilantro, garlic, red onion, olive oil and lime juice to enliven grilled fish.

(Serves 6)
3 well-ripened mangos, peeled and sliced or diced
2 cups sticky rice (Southeast Asian)
½ cup sugar (or to taste)
Half a 19-ounce can of coconut milk (Mae Ploy brand recommended)
2/3 to 1 teaspoon salt

1. To prepare the sticky rice: Working in the sink, put the rice into a bowl with plenty of water and stir well by hand. When the rice has settled to the bottom, pour off most of the cloudy water, refill and repeat. Wash in a few changes of water until the water runs fairly clear.

2. Soak the rice in plenty of water for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight.

3. Pour about 2 cups fresh water into a saucepan with a fitted steamer insert. Line the insert with cheesecloth and set aside. Bring the water to a boil.

4. Drain the rice well, place the steamer insert into the saucepan and pour the rice in. Cover and steam the rice, occasionally checking the water level in the saucepan. After 20 to 25 minutes, turn the rice over in the insert to ensure even steaming. Continue steaming another 5 to 15 minutes until the grains appear clear. Sample a few grains to make sure the rice is cooked through and tender.

5. While the rice is steaming, combine the coconut milk, sugar and salt in another saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stir well and remove from heat.

6. When the rice is cooked, place it on a flat dish and spread carefully using a wet wooden spoon. Pour the coconut mixture over the rice and fold in gently. Do not stir, as stirring may break the grains of rice. Put the coated rice into a bowl, cover and set aside for half an hour to allow the coconut mixture to be absorbed. The rice will appear shiny, and should be at room temperature.

To serve: Arrange on a plate or in a bowl, allowing about half a cup of prepared rice and half a mango per person. Garnish with edible flowers or mint if desired.

Print friendly version.

Recipe from Bo and Steve Kline, owners of Typhoon! restaurants.

Still, the best way to enjoy a mango is to eat it plain at the peak of ripeness. If you believe many food writers, this is a complicated and messy affair. Complex instructions are given on how to prepare a mango, and more than one cookbook author has implied that eating one is a feat best not performed in polite company. "I strongly suggest you retire to the kitchen with only your dearest family and friends," writes one, "lean over the sink, and gnaw on the meaty mango seed with messy, joyous abandon."

I think the more challenging task is finding a good variety of mango. The choices are numerous, ranging in weight from four ounces to more than four pounds, in color from greenish yellow to brilliant red, and in shape from rounded to long and narrow. The best have a pleasing aroma and buttery, succulent flesh, while the less-desirable varieties have fibrous flesh or a chemical smell. Because mangos are picked before they are fully ripe, choose ones that have a fruity smell at the stem end and ripen them at room temperature until the fruit becomes yielding. Once you have found a good variety, you can buy more with greater certainty about flavor.

As for preparing a mango, it is no more complicated than preparing a fully ripened peach. Both need to be handled with care, as they can bruise easily. First, peel the mango completely with a vegetable peeler. Next, separate the two fleshy cheeks from the relatively thin seed inside: Using a sharp knife, beginning at the stem end, cut parallel to the broad side, feeling your way over the stone. Repeat on the other side. Then cut away as much of the flesh as possible from the seed. Now you can cut the flesh into strips or squares.

In the Eastern medicinal systems that classify foods as having a heating or cooling effect on the physiology, the mango is considered highly heating. If you ever ate too much mango and experienced skin or digestive problems, this is the reason. In moderate amounts, mango is considered a tonic for the digestive system and rejuvenating for the body. In India, mango is often paired with cooling dairy to counteract the fruit's heating effect; and in the traditional Thai dessert featured in today's recipe, the fruit's heat is balanced by cooling white rice, coconut milk and palm sugar.

If you're hankering for mango flavor after its season has passed, try the frozen mango chunks sold by Trader Joe's, or wander into an Indian specialty store, where you will find the largest range of mango products. The most familiar will be Major Grey's mango chutney - a British invention (Indian chutneys are of a totally different character) that has become an international favorite. You will also find canned mango, which can add an instant tropical touch to ice cream, custard or tarts; mango pulp for making mango ice cream or sorbet, or for mixing into smoothies or fruit drinks; and mango jam.

DeLaurenti in the Pike Place Market sells a Mexican mango paste that is similar to the Spanish membrillo or quince paste. Like membrillo, this can be served as an appetizer or dessert, coupled with a mild cheese such as Spanish manchego or Washington State University's Cougar Gold. Alternately, mango paste or jam can be used to make mango toast: Spread generously on buttered toast, sprinkle grated cheese on top, and bake or grill until the cheese melts.

Flavorful as these products are, they cannot match the fresh mango's incomparable taste -- a taste so vivid it has captured the imagination of poets. In India, the land most associated with this fruit, the mango has acquired romantic and sensual connotations, perhaps because it arrives in the full bloom of summer, before the monsoon rains fall. Writers describe pastoral lovers meeting beneath the blossoming mango tree, a stately and towering evergreen. One legend links the mango with the daughter of the sun in a story that involves a lovelorn king and a series of magical transformations. As the tale implies, the mango is a fruit that can indeed seem magical - a potion of concentrated golden sunshine, a gift of the summer sun.

Andrew Jayasundera is a publications specialist and freelance food writer. Barry Wong is a staff photographer for Pacific Northwest magazine.

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