Hail Summer With The Prince Of Fruits: The Green Mango

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Tart, raw and green – mangoes have made their way into the weekly vegetable shopping – and there is no better way celebrate Spring and prepare for the onslaught of summer
Tart, raw and green – mangoes have made their way into the weekly vegetable shopping – and there is no better way celebrate Spring and prepare for the onslaught of summer

As the air turns warmer around us things turn a little sour. Only in the most positive way. Tart, raw and green – mangoes have made their way into the weekly vegetable shopping – and there is no better way to celebrate Spring and prepare for the onslaught of summer.

A raw mango pickle with chilli, mustard seed and curry leaves, introduced to me by the Malayali side of the family, is an instant hit
A raw mango pickle with chilli, mustard seed and curry leaves, introduced to me by the Malayali side of the family, is an instant hit

The mango (Mangifera indica) is native to and has been cultivated in the Indian subcontinent for the last 4,000 years. “A deep and conspicuous bond has formed between the fruit and the cultural history of the region, says Kusum Buddhwar, author of ‘Romance of the Mango’. The fruit permeates not just our tastebuds but references to it are found in our history, mythology, art, craft, sculpture, textiles and even jewellery. For now, let us talk about the raw mango – and celebrate its arrival this year.

And as soon as the green version hits the markets, conversations will have begun on the upcoming mango season, the ‘kaal boishakhi’ (localised thunderstorms) and its effects on the availability of raw mangoes. Discussions had by everyone – the vegetable sellers at the local market tempting you to pick up some raw mangoes, which are the right amount of sour for cooking, home cooks celebrating how a dash of sliced raw mango can pep up routine dal preparations or a mundane vegetable curry. Some of the best meat and fish dishes are ones with raw mango – from the tangy and spicy fish curries of Kerala to Bengal’s mustard hilsa and pork curry in Assam. 

One must-have or rather ‘easy-to-have’ in kitchens is the simple aam tel (sun-dried mangoes preserved in pure mustard oil with spices).
One must-have or rather ‘easy-to-have’ in kitchens is the simple aam tel (sun-dried mangoes preserved in pure mustard oil with spices).

I’ll start with my family kitchen, where the arrival of the green mango from the market to table immediately transforms into three staples – a Bengali-style sweet light green mango chutney tempered with ‘panch phoron’ (Bengali five spice) and dry red chillies, had more traditionally at the end of the meal though I am happy enough to mix it into the dal or curry to pep things up; an instant raw mango pickle with chilli, mustard seed and curry leaves, introduced to me by the Malayali side of the family; and a raw mango paste with, green chillies red onion and ginger, dollops of which are had with everything from ‘paanta bhat’ to dosa.

The three preparations described above or variations of these are ubiquitous in kitchens across India. Type green mango on your search engine and thousands of recipes appear – not just from India but across the world – but most of us will have favourites that we have grown up eating every year, partially because of the tremendous benefits of eating raw mango.

Its cooling properties are cited across the country and raw mango finds its way into our diets as protection against the scorching summer heat, a preventive and cure for ailments from heatstroke to exhaustion. Visit most homes or dine out during this season and you are likely to be offered ‘aam panna’ or ‘aam porar shorbot’ – and if you are fortunate, it will be the variety made from scratch with roasted green mango and a combination of spices. Restaurants and bars go a step further to promote green mango flavoured cocktails – the tequila-based margarita and white-rum mojitos are popular. Mangoes also grow in Cuba and Mexico – and these combinations are inevitably opportune.

Even street vendors will have substituted their souring agents this season – mouthwatering treats as simple as slices of green mango sprinkled with chilli and salt are being sold by the fruit sellers outside every office ‘para’, and finely sliced slivers make their way into everything from ‘jhaal muri’ to ‘chanachur’ mixture being sold at popular evening hangouts – be it the Maidan across Victoria Memorial or the neighbourhood park.

Visit most homes or dine out during this season and you are likely to be offered ‘aam panna’ or ‘aam porar shorbot’
Visit most homes or dine out during this season and you are likely to be offered ‘aam panna’ or ‘aam porar shorbot’

Even as we are enjoying the pleasure of fresh mango on our plates every day – thoughts of preservation creep into our minds, as they have been for centuries. Though commercially produced pickles are abundant, and the convenience of modern preservation and cold storage has extended the mango season as never before – there are many who still painstakingly create homemade pickles – recipes of which have been handed down through generations.

 

One of my family’s favourite markets in Kolkata to visit to buy mangoes for pickling is Jadubabu’s bazaar near Paddapukur.

 

Enter the market once the mango season arrives and you will see heaps of raw mangoes being sold, specifically for pickling purposes. The sellers will check with you on what kind of pickle you are making. For spicy and sour pickles, a tarter version of the fruit is offered and for sweet pickles a sweet-sour variety works best. Best of all, not only can you buy the fruit-you can have it washed and cut as per your pickling needs and various masalas are also available. You can even watch many veteran picklers reading out lists of ingredients for secret recipes that can never be store-bought.

A Bengali-style sweet light green mango chutney tempered with panch phoron (Bengali five spice) and dry red chillies is a simple delight to relish
A Bengali-style sweet light green mango chutney tempered with panch phoron (Bengali five spice) and dry red chillies is a simple delight to relish

One must-have or rather ‘easy-to-have’ in kitchens is the simple ‘aam tel’ (sun-dried mangoes preserved in pure mustard oil with spices). It’s a condiment that lends a flavour bomb to a simple meal of rice, dal and potato mash Bengali style or just poured into homemade ‘muri’ (puffed rice) with onions, green chillies, and salt.

And so, the next time you are at the market and the green mango beckons – do not hesitate. This is one ingredient that is sure to add the spark into your everyday kitchen capers.

All Images: Google

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