Typically existing in two races, the mango finds its roots in Burma and South India, and in Southeast Asia particularly the Philippines.
Mango season is one of my favorite things about living in Asia! All the charm and sensuous sweetness that is the essence of the tropics– in one fruit. Mangoes signal a reprieve from the hot season, heralding the summer monsoons. It kicks off the festive Khmer New Year and launches the summer fruit bounty: rambutan, lychee, mangosteen and durian. Long bamboo sticks with a cage-like trap at the end ensure reach into the highest cluster (these evergreen trees grow to 60 feet tall).
Street vendors now walk their bicycle-loads of mangoes, and market sellers pile them on mats and in baskets. National roads are lined with stands stacked high, selling for as little as 1000Riel or $0.25 per kg. Because techniques to increase mango yields are so successful, and growers don’t have the capacity to export the fruit, its prices are largely insulated from inflation and the depreciating dollar.
So what to do with all those mangoes?
1. Eat it raw, it’s packed with nutrients! Khmer taste buds are inclined towards bitter and salty flavors, so a popular way to eat it here is unripe, sliced and dipped into a mixture of salt and chili. But many of us prefer it melt-in-your-mouth golden sweet and custardy!
2. Toss cubes of ripe sweet mango into your favorite curry for a smack of fresh tropical sweetness.
3. Make a Mango Chutney and serve with brie on a cheese platter or with grilled chicken or fish. From the Food Network:
2 1/2 cups diced mangos
1 (1-inch) piece peeled fresh ginger
1 Scotch bonnet pepper, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup raisins
Freshly ground black pepper
Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer until thick, about 25 minutes, stirring often to keep from sticking. Let cool, and store in an airtight container.
4. For a sumptuous dessert pair it with the decadent richness of coconut by making Sticky Rice and Mango (Recipe by Sophat). This combination of the fresh sweetness of mango with the rich creaminess of coconut milk is really a fabulous treat. Sticky rice is a staple to Laos and Thailand. Sticky Rice and Mango is credited generally to southern Thailand where sticky rice is served with mango as a dessert, with condensed or coconut milk poured over it.
1 1/2 cups sticky rice
1 1/2 cups canned coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
2 to 4 ripe mangoes, depending on size, peeled, pitted, sliced.
(To make your own coconut milk: Take a cup of unsweetened shredded dried coconut and stir in two cups of boiling water. Let sit for a few minutes then strain with a cheesecloth to extract all the liquid. Sweeten to taste ~around 3Tbsp~ with white sugar. This is much better than canned coconut, but the latter can be substituted. Set aside.)
Steam the rice (this needs less water than regular rice) and set aside to cool for half an hour or so.
In a pan, gently warm coconut milk with sugar and salt until they dissolve. Stir in half the coconut milk mixture over the warm sticky rice. Divide sweetened rice to individual serving bowls. Add mango slices. Pour the rest of the coconut milk over the mango. Serve.
5. Whip up a Mango Lassi (Recipe by K Kelly). Lassis are a tasty shake, good as a filling snack on those hot days. It’s a traditional North Indian beverage, and it’s found in ancient Indian texts. Yogurt sweetened with honey is still used in Hindu rituals.
2 cups milk
1 individual container plain yogurt
2 mangoes, diced
2 tsp honey
Mix all in a blender. Serves 2.
And if you have an event coming up that requires a cake, mango complements chocolate very nicely. It’s also excellent paired with coconut, passion fruit or taro in a moist layered cake, with mango incorporated into the icing. I unfortunately am not a good baker and have only had cakes professionaly catered, so can’t offer a recipe. If anyone has a good one I’m game to try!
There are over 1000 varieties, ranging from a deep golden yellow to green to red. Svay teethai and svay kailchun in Cambodia are known to be sweet.
One of many fruit sellers at Psar Toul Tumpung (Russian Market), with pre-season harvests.