I remember clearly the first time I ever tasted a mango. I was 12 years old and living in northern Virginia. A friend of my father had brought some mangos back from a trip to Mexico and gave a few ripe ones to my father. Dad brought them home from his office at the Pentagon and we had a family tasting. I thought I had died and gone to heaven–it was the best tasting fruit I’d ever had, and is still my favorite fruit. Mangos originated in east India, Burma and the Andaman Islands bordering the Bay of Bengal and have been cultivated since at least 2000 B.C. Around the 5th century B.C., the mango was introduced, perhaps by Buddhist monks, to Malaysia. (Legend holds that Buddha found tranquility in a mango grove.)
Persian traders took the mango into the Middle East and Africa, and from there the Portuguese brought it to Brazil and the West Indies. In India in the 16th century, the Moghul ruler Akbar planted a huge orchard, called Lakh Bagh because the supposed number of trees was one lakh (100,000). Mango cultivars arrived in Florida in the 1830s and in California in the 1880s. Today, more than 150 varieties of mango are grown in Florida.
Mangos, like apples, do not grow true from seeds, so they are propagated by taking cuttings and rooting them. The fruits vary in size and weight from 2 inches and 4 ounces to 10 inches and over 4.5 pounds. The finest mangos have a pleasant, faintly resinous aroma and the worst ones smell like kerosene.
Legend holds that fresh, ripe mangos are so juicy that they are best eaten while nude in a bathtub. The fruit is less dramatically preserved by drying, canning in syrup, or pickling. Green mangos are made into fiery hot chutneys and are often pickled as well. East Indians, great lovers of mangos that they are, take things a step further and turn the mangos into cereal flakes, custard powder, and toffee. In Vietnam, salted mango slices are eaten with green chile, while in Mexico the slices are served covered with red chile powder. Mango shakes called batidos are popular in Florida and the Caribbean.
- –In his Kama Sutra, Vatsyayana advises lovers to drink mango juice before making love,
- –There are more than 40 species and 400 varieties of mangos throughout the world.
- –The mango is a member of the cashew family of flowering plants; other species include the pistachio tree and poison ivy.
- –Top mango exporters are India, Pakistan, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Brazil, Israel, South Africa and Peru.
- –Mangos are rich in vitamin A and have good amounts of vitamins B and C as well as potassium, calcium and iron.
- –Dermatitis can result from contact with the resinous latex sap that drips from the stem end when mangos are harvested. The mango fruit skin is not considered to be edible.
Grilled Scallops with a Rocotillo Mango Relish
Chris Schlesinger, of the East Coast Grill in Cambridge, Massachusetts, sent me this recipe, which was published in an early issue of Chile Pepper magazine. The sharp spiciness of the chile combines easily with mellow sweetness of the mango to create a strong by not overpowering accompaniment for the creamy taste of the scallops.
1 cup rocotillo chiles, seeds and stems removed, minced, or substitute 1 habanero plus 2 yellow wax chiles
1 small purple onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and diced
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and diced
2 ripe mangos, peeled and diced
Juice of 3 oranges
1/2 cup pineapple juice
Juice of 4 limes
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 pounds sea scallops
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
To make the relish, in a bowl combine all the ingredients, except the scallops, water, salt, and pepper and mix well.
Blanch the scallops in boiling water in a saucepan for 2 1/2 minutes. Drain, pat dry, and sprinkle with the salt and pepper.
Thread the scallops on skewers and grill over a medium hot fire until they are golden brown on the outside and opaque throughout, about 2 to 3 minutes per side.
Make a bed of the relish on each plate and place the scallops on top and serve.
Yield: 4 servings
Heat Scale: Medium
For more food history and recipes on the subjects of Mexican and Southwestern cuisine, just click on the image below.