Danville Express

Column - July 20, 2007

Epicure: It takes you to mango

by Jacqui Love Marshall

A quick logic question (remember the SAT's?): Lamb is to meat what sashimi is to seafood what zinfandel is to red wine what ??? is to fruit. The correct answer, of course, is mango.

Well, that's the right answer because this logic is based on MY favorite foods. Having spent my childhood in Miami, mangoes are right at the top of my favorites list, along with grandkids, cruises, mojitos and Sunday brunches. One of my earliest childhood memories is shaking the mango tree in my back yard to yield dozens of mangoes, peeling away the skin with my teeth and eating the juicy mango flesh until it dripped down my chin, through my shirt to my tummy and down to my toes. I didn't mind the stickiness but it's too bad nobody warned me how tough mango stains are to get out of clothing.

The fruit itself is mysterious looking with its shiny skin in green, red, orange and yellow shades and evokes adjectives like tropical, luscious, exotic and sensual. The mango is often described as a unique blend of peach and pineapple but I think it has a taste and texture like none other. Native to Indian for over 4,000 years, there are now 1,000-plus varieties of mangoes in India alone. Mangoes are available April through September, although the best-tasting ones are usually found June through July. There is a widely accepted thought that a glass of milk and a couple mangoes are equal to a full day's nutrients. Mangoes are high fiber, low calorie, and rich in antioxidants, potassium and vitamins A and C.

When buying mangoes, choose unblemished fruits that slightly give way to the touch; avoid hard, mushy or bruised ones. Smell them for a tropical fruit fragrance as unripe mangoes rarely have a scent. If you buy a mango that is not fully ripe, place it in a paper bag for a few days to help it ripen. Occasionally, you will encounter one with stringy flesh but, except for the smallest of mango varieties, stringiness is a factor of nature/nuture and there's no real way to check for that quality.

Mangoes are used extensively in Middle Eastern, Thai, African, Caribbean and Asian dishes, but can be found in dishes of many other cuisines. The sweet, stable texture of mangoes offers balance to strong foods and their versatility allows them to do well in meat/fish toppings, salads, drinks and desserts. To get more familiar with using mangoes, try one of the recipes here. In fact, you don't need a special recipe - just add them (sliced or pureed) to your favorite drink (martini, cosmo, mojito), along with your favorite ice cream, atop your next salad. You and Mr./Miss Mango will make great cooking partners!

Recipes

Mango Salsa (serves 6 as side dish)

3 ripe mangoes, pitted and cubed

Juice of one lime

1 Tbsp red onion, minced

1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1/2 jalapeno pepper (optional), seeded and minced

Combine all ingredients; let stand for 10 minutes. Toss before serving with grilled fish, chicken or pork.

Mango Melon Soup (serves 8 as first course or dessert)

3 mangos, peeled and cubed

1 small cantaloupe, peeled and cubed

1 ripe banana, peeled and chunked

1 Tbsp fresh-squeezed lemon juice

1 tsp honey

1 dash pure vanilla extract

Mint leaves & fresh raspberries, for garnish

1. Place cantaloupe cubes, banana chunks, 1/2 of the mango cubes, lemon juice, honey, and vanilla extract in blender; blend until smooth.

2. Refrigerate mixture for several hours or overnight. Refrigerate the remaining mango cubes separately.

3. When ready to serve, divide mango cubes among 8 small dessert cups. Stir chilled fruit mixture and pour evenly over mango cubes in each dessert cup. To serve, garnish each with a mint leaf and raspberries.

Mango Salad with Grilled Shrimp (serves 4 as first course)

2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 (4-inch-long) fresh hot red chile peppers, thinly sliced, including seeds

1 medium shallot, thinly sliced

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

2 firm-ripe mangoes, pitted, peeled, and thinly sliced

16 jumbo shrimp (1-1/4 pounds), shelled, leaving tail and adjoining first segment attached, and deveined

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 medium fresh jalapeno chile peppers, minced, including seeds

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon salt

Lime wedges

1. Prepare mango salad: Whisk together brown sugar and lime juice in large bowl until sugar is dissolved, then whisk in red chile, shallot, cilantro and mint. Add mangoes, tossing gently.

2. Grill shrimp: Beginning at thick end, insert a skewer lengthwise through each shrimp to secure. Transfer to a tray. Prepare grill. Whisk together oil, jalapeno chile, cumin, and salt; brush on skewered shrimp until well coated. Grill shrimp, turning occasionally, until lightly charred and just cooked through, about 4 minutes.

Toss mango salad again and divide among 4 individual serving plates. Arrange 4 shrimp on top of each serving.

Prepping and Cutting a Mango

To pit a mango, place it stem side up with the narrow side facing you. Make a vertical slice starting at 1/4 inch to the right of the stem. Repeat on the other side. Lightly score the flesh of the mango into diamonds. Buckle the skin, pushing the flesh outward so that it resembles a hedgehog. Slice off the cubes.

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