If it’s summer, it’s time for the king of fruits. And, remember, there’s more you can do with mangoes than just pickles and chutneys.
In Delhi it’s that time of year again, when the best mangoes are just around the corner, but, unable to wait, I end up buying sindoori and kesari. And a variety being passed off as alphonso, which an honest vendor confided was actually “trukmani”. For the last few years safeda has been pretty good, but this year it’s just not around. So I’m saddled with lumpy, artificially ripened fruit, which is either hard and tart or, if it gives to the touch and seems ripe, is pulpy near the stone, and smells slightly high.
And yet, the plaintive kuhu-kuhu of the koel on hot summer days touches something. In a finer sensibility, it would be the soul, but for me the sound evokes mangoes. And all those dadras about koels – or papihas - and mangoes only remind me of what we should be eating. Missi roti with karelas and mangoes on the side. Fallen mangoes, so sour they set your teeth on edge, roughly chopped up with onions and mint leaves, rubbed with salt and coarsely pounded red chillies. Pickles, aam papad. Ripe mangoes, sliced. Or the elaborate creation a friend works hard over: mangoes cut crosswise and the stone wrenched out, thick cream filled into the little cavity left by the stone, and each half carefully placed upright in the fridge, to be chilled and eaten hours later with a spoon. His favourite are langdas, but for those we have to wait.
In the meanwhile every variety of mango is bought and I end up with kilos that taste not-quite-right, but smell like mangoes. Later each year there comes a time when the mangoes are perfect, the weather is wet and appetites are jaded. Then, because you need a change from the tinda-tori-karela regime, and because it’s delicious anyway, there’s a traditional Punjabi way to make ripe mangoes into a curry. Even the suboptimal mangoes that are around now are right for the curry: they have flavour, sweetness can be added, and they have to be softened by cooking. The dish is considered so homely that I’ve never seen it served at parties, which is a pity because it is extraordinary: pretty yellow gravy, sweet and sour, and fragrant with spices and the mango’s own flavour. It doesn’t seem to have a standard name,; it’s either malanji or banji, depending on which district you come from. Some even call it simply khatta-meetha. Gudumba, gur and umb (aam in Punjabi), is a drink made of raw mangoes. But malanji, with the same ingredients, is a dish eaten with roti or rice. Kerala has a version with a proper name, pazha manga kari.
Apart from the usual chutneys and pickles of raw mangoes, the other traditional use is to sour dals. But the other day my friend Maitrayee gave me a recipe for fish curry with raw mangoes, which, as she said, was light and perfect for this hot weather. To a person used to gravy usually being thick with onions, this one was a surprise. It has absolutely nothing to thicken or even cloud it. When I made it, I was worried that all it would taste of would be water. What turned out was a thin, greenish curry with a hint of gold, with jewel-like red chillies floating here and there. Yellow pieces of fish peeping through the jhol. It tasted slightly sour and slightly sweet, not strong and sharp, but soft and delicate.
Malanji (Ripe Mango Curry)
2 large ripe mangos, or 4 small ones
11/2 tbsp ghee
4 whole dry red chillies
1/2 tsp saunf, aniseed
1/2 tsp methi dana, fenugreek
1/2 tsp kalonji, onion seed
1/4 tsp turmeric
1-2 tbsp grated gur or1 tbsp sugar
Method: Peel mangos and cut each cheek away from the stone. The stone can be stripped if you want to leave it out of the curry, but keeping it in, with the flesh on, adds to the fun of the curry. Cut the cheeks into large pieces, about 2 inches by 1 inch. Heat ghee and sauté red chillies. Add saunf, methi dana and kalonji. After a few seconds stir in mango pieces and stones. Add turmeric and stir gently. Meanwhile boil 2 cups of water. Add to cooking mangos and simmer till mangos are cooked through but not mushy. Taste and add grated gur or shakkar. Sugar is sweeter, but the colour of the curry is richer with gur or shakkar.
To cut down on ghee, use less, about a teaspoon, and sauté the spices. Mango tends to stick, so add boiling water first and then the pieces of mango. Simmer till the mango is cooked through.
Summer Fish Curry with Raw Mango
400g fish slices
1 raw mango
Mustard oil to fry fish
½ tsp black mustard seeds, sarson
3 whole dry red chillies
Method: Marinate fish with salt and turmeric powder. Peel mango and cut into long, slim wedges. Heat mustard oil and sauté fish just until golden. Remove and drain on absorbent paper towel. Strain oil and heat 1 tbsp of it in a clean kadahi. Sauté sarson seeds and then add broken red chillies. Add raw mango slivers. After a minute add 1cup boiling water and salt. Gently add fish pieces when water boils. Simmer for a minute or two. Stir in ½ tsp sugar.
Vasundhara Chauhan is based in Delhi and works with Pratham's ASER (Annual Status of Education Report).