Making The Most Of Mangoes

SUNDAY GOURMET

June 12, 1994|By GAIL FORMAN

A dead-ripe mango is a taste of paradise. Some people -- no dTC doubt aware of the mango's reputation as the "apple" of the Orient -- claim it was the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.

But two bushels of the heavenly fruit ripening all at once is more like a little bit of hell. At least it was some years ago for my family of three mango lovers when we realized we would never be able to eat them all before they spoiled.

On a car trip to Florida we stopped at a stand near the Everglades where mangoes were cheap by the bushel. By the time we arrived home, they were well on their way to ripe and we were on our way to mango overload -- especially since it's best not to refrigerate the delicate fruit.

We ate them sliced, sauteed them with butter and rum, baked them into crisps, made them into a sauce for shortbread and angel food cake, added them to salads, chopped them with chili peppers for relish, and gave them to friends. But the cornucopia seemed infinite.

That's when I discovered that mangoes pureed and then frozen in small containers will keep for months. (When defrosted, the puree can be freshened with liqueurs, strawberries, pomegranates, kiwi or passion fruit.) I also mixed the puree with whipped cream for frozen mango fool and with sugar syrup for sorbet.

But still there were mangoes. So I tried to replicate the vinegar-pickled mangoes served with grilled meats in Hawaii and the sweet-and-hot mango chutneys of India that taste so delicious with curries.

Some experts say mangoes originated 6,000 years ago in India, where their "kidney" shape is a prominent symbol in paisley textiles, jewelry and other arts. As many as 30 varieties are grown in India, some weighing only a few ounces, others a few pounds.

On the U.S. market today the only kind we find is Mangifera, in two main varieties. The Haden, which weighs under a pound, is more round than oval or kidney-shaped, and when ripe has orangish-yellow skin. Its pale-orange flesh is silkier, sweeter and richer than the Tommy Atkins, the other most commonly available type. Tommys usually weigh about a pound, have an oval shape, thick orange skin and fibrous, mild-flavored yellow flesh.

Floridians have been growing mangoes commercially since the late 1800s. With the demand increasing, Florida's crop is supplemented with fruit imported from Mexico and Central America. Florida mangoes are available from April through September, with the peak season May through July. Fruit from other countries is sold from January to September.

The flavor of mangoes has been compared to that of bananas, apricots, peaches, lemons, pineapples and even mint. But which of those can claim the mango's title: "the king of fruits"?

MANGO SALSA

1 large ripe mango, chopped

1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely chopped

1/2 small onion, finely chopped

1 small fresh jalapeno chili pepper, seeded and finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon fresh minced ginger

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

juice of 1 lime or 1 small lemon

salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients. Adjust seasonings to taste. Refrigerate, covered, for at least 2 hours before serving. Bring to room temperature before serving. Serve with grilled chicken, fish or shrimp. Makes about 2 cups.

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