Some four thousand years ago, mangifera indica, a species of mango, was domesticated in India. The fruit was later introduced into East Asia and Africa, and brought to Mexico and parts of Central and South America. Throughout Asia, mangos are one of the most popular and cherished foods, often called the queen of fruits.

Indian art and literature is obsessed with images of the mango, which is considered a symbol of fertility and love. In one of the oldest poems in world literature, Shakuntala, the 4th century Sanskrit poet Kalidas describes the mango twig as an instrument to provoke a heroine’s love. The mango fruit is used in many religious rituals as an auspicious symbol, and mango leaves are traditionally used as decoration for the mandap, a ceremonial wedding space.

In textile arts a mango motif is the basis for the design that is known as “paisley” in the Western world. The tear-drop, mango-like shape often appears in borders of a shawl or at the decorated end of a sari, called the pallu, which drapes around the shoulders or covers the head. The motif originated in India where it was known as kairy, which means mango. It was often used in Kashmiri shawls that were imported to England, and was incorporated into textiles made in mills at Paisley, Scotland. Soon kairy became “paisley,” the popular pattern we know today.

Among the hundreds of varieties of mangos available today, the most popular in Asia, known for their flavor and sweetness, are Alphonso and Kesar of India, and Guimaras and Carabaos of the Philippines. Many of these popular varieties can be ordered online, but imported mangoes do not compare with fresh ones. You might travel to these countries during mango season to experience their real taste, but don’t pack them in your suitcase to bring back to the United State. If you do, you will spend many hours in customs and at the end they will confiscate your mangos!

Luckily, tasty fresh organic mangos are available in the United States throughout the year.

These are mostly two varieties: large ones with red, yellow and green skin and small yellow ones often called Manila mangos. Most of these are imported from Mexico or grown in California. Canned mango pulp can be found in Indian import markets, but is usually sweetened with sugar.

The mango is rich in dietary fiber, vitamins A, B6, C and E, minerals and antioxidants. Mangos are an excellent source of vitamin A: a 100 gram fresh mango provides 25% of the recommended daily dietary requirement. Vitamin A promotes sound vision and healthy skin, and the beta-carotene in mango is known to protect the body from lung and oral-cavity cancers. Vitamins C, E and B6 in mangos are good for the heart and blood vessels, and mangos are a good source of potassium. 100 grams of fresh mango provides 156 mg of potassium, and just 2 mg of sodium. Potassium helps maintain a healthy heart rate and blood pressure. The antioxidants found in mangos help prevent colon, breast, and prostate cancers. Mango is a pleasing accompaniment to a spicy meal.

Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine, lives in San Francisco, where she is manager and co-owner of Other Avenues, a health-food store.

Ripe Mango Recipes

Mango Kachumber

Kachumber is served as a side dish or a relish to accompany an Indian meal. It is usually made with a raw, peeled vegetable such as a cucumber or a fruit such as a mango, which is combined with other raw, spicy vegetables and lemon or lime juice. Mango kachumber can be made with a sour green mango, but the recipe below calls for a sweet ripe mango to make a zesty sweet and sour side dish. This recipe should not be confused with a cooked mango chutney or an achar which is usually made from green mangos and preserved for days before serving.

Select firm mangos that smell ripe and have some softness to the touch. If they are very hard, leave them in a warm space in the kitchen for a few days until they soften and become fragrant.

Ingredients
2 fresh, ripe but firm mangos17
3 tbsps finely chopped fresh cilantro,
stems removed
3 tbsps finely chopped green onions
1 to 2 tbsps, or to taste, freshly squeezed
lime or lemon juice
1 tsp or less, finely minced jalapeno or
serrano pepper

2 tsps finely grated fresh ginger
Salt to taste

Method
Cut the fresh mangos as follows: Stand each mango on end on a cutting board, holding it with one hand along the long side. With a sharp knife, cut the fruit away from the long pit in several large fleshy strips. You should get about six to eight strips with the skin still intact.

Using a small knife, gently cut the fruit into small chunks, keeping the skin attached and being careful not to cut through the skin. Then, using a spoon, scoop away the chunks which will come off of the skin easily. If necessary, peel the skin with a paring knife and then cut the strips into chunks. Put the mango chunks into a mixing bowl.

Next, set the pit on the cutting board and use a paring knife to remove the chunks of flesh attached to the pit. Discard the pit and add the chunks to the bowl.

Add the rest of the ingredients to the mango chunks and mix well. Adjust the seasonings and serve with an Indian appetizer, a curry, and a flat bread or crackers.

Variations
1) Add chunks of fresh pineapple or fuyu persimmon when they are in season.
2) To make a refreshing Mango salsa, cut the fruit and mix with the above ingredients, omitting the fresh ginger.

Lassi

Lassi is everyone’s favorite drink in India. Whether you are looking for an energizing liquid meal on a hot day, or relief after eating some spicy Indian food, Lassi is the perfect cooler.

Lassi is made with yogurt and/or buttermilk, water and ice, and is often sweetened with a fruit such as mango or banana, and sugar. Mango lassi is my favorite.

Mango Lassi

Ingredients
2 large or 4 medium very ripe mangos
to obtain 2 cups of mango pulp
2 cups of yogurt combined with 2 cups of cold water,
or
1 cup of yogurt combined with 1 cup of
buttermilk and 2 cups of water
2 tbsps sugar or any sweetener of your
choice to taste ice cubes

Method

Select mangos that are so ripe that the skins are dimpled and they look a bit old. Really ripe mangoes can often be found in the ‘sale’ corner of Chinese markets because they want to sell them quickly.

Roll the mango gently but thoroughly between your hands. Cut off the tip where the fruit comes to a point. With firm and steady pressure squeeze the juice of the mango into a mixing bowl. More juice can be extracted from around the pit by rubbing it with your fingers, but do not allow any fiber into the bowl. Combine the yogurt, mango pulp, sugar and water in the jar of a blender or a food processor and blend briefly. In India mangoes are so ripe and sweet you will not need to add any sugar, so go easy on the sugar at first and add more to taste. Place two ice cubes into a serving glass, pour the Lassi over the ice, and serve.

Vegan Lassi

Ingredients
2 large or 4 medium very ripe mangos to obtain 2 cups of mango pulp
2½ cups of soy yogurt mixed with 1½ cups of water
or
1 cup of raw cashews soaked in 3 cups of warm water
Juice of ½ lemon or lime 1 to 2 tbsps of sugar or sweetener of your choice to taste ice cubes

If you are making Vegan Lassi using soy yogurt, follow the above recipe exactly, replacing the yogurt, or yogurt and buttermilk, with soy yogurt.

Method
To make a Vegan Lassi with cashews, soak the nuts in warm water for 45 minutes to an hour. While the nuts are soaking prepare the mango pulp as described above. After soaking, place the nuts and their water in the jar of an electric blender or food processor and pulse to a milky liquid. Add the mango, lemon or lime juice, desired sweetener and blend again briefly. Place two ice cubes in three tall serving glasses. Pour the Lassi over and serve.

Lazy Lassi

If you do not have fresh mangoes substitute 3 cups of mango puree, available in Asian markets. There is added sugar in the canned puree, so you may not want to add any sugar.

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