Mangos are intoxicatingly delicious. They should be eaten raw and ripe on a street corner or over your kitchen sink. You have to assume the right stance – legs back, chin forward, elbows out – to avoid juice dripping down your arm. For a cook they are the best kind of ingredient because they don’t need much help. Cooking with them demands a simple preparation with only a few ingredients so their true flavor comes out.
In Colombia mangos are street food, sold from the corner cart. “Maduro o verde?” It is up to you, sweet and ripe or green and tart. Sold cubed and packed in tall plastic bags, then sprinkled with salt, mangos are the local snack.
In India, legend says that true love sprang from a mango tree. Mango leaves fill floral arrangements at weddings, a symbol of love. And mango leaf garlands swag across doorways when a child is born, a symbol of fertility. Mangos existed in India in the wild as far back as 4000 B.C. and were cultivated two thousand years later. Today, India is still the world’s largest producer and consumer of the “fruit of the gods.”
Mangos have been seducing travelers with their charms since the 1st century, when explorer Huang Tsuang brought them to China. From there, travelers moved the mango westward. The mango landed in Persia in the 10th century and by 1328, Europeans had gotten a taste, then the Portuguese, who took the captivating fruit with them to Africa and Brazil in the 18th century. Mexico met the mango relatively recently in the 19th century where it has become the perfect foil to their chili-driven cuisine.
You have to love a country where mangos are in season all year long! In Mexico, mangos have a definite season, May to September, with a peak in June and July. But in Colombia, where the sun shines the same in December as it does in June, you will always find mangos at the market.
Much of the year the ‘Tomy’ variety is the star at market stands. The fruit is large with reddish yellow skin, sticky with sugar sap and strangely fragrant. Its flesh is firm and smooth, even meaty. The Tomy mango tastes exotic, sweet and succulent, a little like apricot drizzled with honey. A bad mango tastes like soap and turpentine, a good one, like flowers, like heaven. In Colombia other varieties like ‘Mango Común’ and ‘Mango Azúcar’ peak from May to September, when they are sweet, aromatic and piled high, but you will find them throughout the year in lesser quantities. Mango Común deceives with a shapely almond figure and rosy complexion, but its shallow flavor and fibrous flesh do not deliver. My one year old son loves the tiny Mango Azúcar, enticed by its nectar sweetness.
It is always a plus when something that tastes so good is actually good for you. Mangos are blood builders and a digestive aid, purifying the intestinal tract. They stimulate metabolism, always welcome in my book. And, their high content of iron, potassium, magnesium, beta-carotine, and vitamins C, B1, B2, B3 and B6 makes them a valuable addition to the fruit basket.
What should you do with the pounds of mangos you bring home after you have eaten your fill over the kitchen sink? Throughout Southeast Asia they simmer mangos into sweet or hot chutneys, spicy jams and relishes. Green fruits are made into pickles and salads or eaten raw with soy sauce. In Mexico they freeze the ripe, orange pulp into a nieve, an icey sorbet or eat them on a stick sprinkled with chile-limon. In California we chop mango with onion, chile and cilantro, a spicy salsa to serve over roasted pork.
1 cup diced fresh mango pulp, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon honey
2 cups plain yogurt
8 ice cubes
Blend all ingredients until smooth and creamy. Serve in a tall chilled glass.
Herb Crusted Pork Loin with Mango Glaze and Mango Salsa
Sweet, and salty, sour, and spicy, this is a great combination.
Mango Chile Glaze
1 ½ cups fresh mango, peeled and pureed
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, ground
2 thick sliced fresh ginger about ½” wide each, peeled and minced
1 small white onion, peeled and minced
Combine all ingredients and cook in a heavy non-reactive saucepan over low heat until the sauce thickens slightly and smells aromatic, about 8-10 minutes.
Roasted Pork Loin
2 pound pork loin
Rub with olive oil, coarsely ground kosher or sea salt, black pepper, and thyme. Roast at 350 ° F (176 ° C) until pink in the center and soft to the touch. Remove from oven, coat with mango glaze, and increase oven temperature to 375 ° F (190 ° C.) Roast pork until it has browned but slightly pink in the center.
2 large Tomy mangos, peeled and diced
½ red onion, minced
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
¼ fresh Colombian ají or ½ jalapeño chile, seeded and minced
Juice of 2 limes
1 teaspoon honey
Drizzle of balsamic vinegar