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July 05, 2002
The Many-Splendored Mango
The Miami Herald  by Allen Susser, Contributing Writer
The Many-Splendored Mango Papaya, guava, pineapple, banana, tamarind, sour orange and passion fruit all play a role in the sweet, spicy, aromatic mélange that is tropical cooking, but the mango is king. The most popular fruit in the world, it has melted into the cuisines, cultures and hearts of people around the globe.

Its species name, Mangeferi indica, means 'an Indian plant bearing mangoes,' and it is thought to have originated in India's Hindo Berma region nearly 4,000 years ago. The mango moved east to Southeast Asia and west to the New World, where Spanish and Portuguese explorers spread it throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. (Mangoes arrived in Florida from the Caribbean and India in the late 19th Century, but it wasn't until the early 20th Century that they became popular and plentiful here.)

For millions of people throughout the world, the mango is a comfort food, one of those comestibles that nourishes body and soul.

The mango motif, the basis for the familiar paisley design, is used in Indian textiles, paintings and jewelry as a symbol of desire and plenty. In Indian folklore, people are categorized by comparing them towith four types of mangoes: immature but with ripe color, of ripe color but immature, immature and of unripe color and ripe as well as of ripe color.

Mangoes were popularized in Europe around the turn of the 20th Century by French painter Paul Gauguin, who conveyed their seductiveness in his sultry Woman With Mango‚ and bare-breasted Two Tahitian Women With Mangoes.
In Malaysia an old proverb asks, 'Which comes first, the mango or the stone?'
In Jamaica the fruit is so abundant that peak mango season is called 'turn down the pots' because no one needs to cook at home in the heat of the summer's day.

South Florida is the international crossroads of tropical cuisine, and our use of mangoes reflects Indian, Southeast Asian and Caribbean influences. In all of these cultures, mangoes are consumed both mature green and ripe.

In India, green mangoes are pickled or cooked into sublime, spicy chutneys. In Southeast Asia they are eaten freshly peeled with contrasting sweet, spicy and salty dipping sauces. In Latin American countries, green mangoes are enjoyed with a squeeze of lime and a dash of salt.

Lush ripe mango is often used in the yummy Indian ice cream called kulfi as well as to add flavor and color to aromatic basmati rice. In Thailand it is paired with sticky rice in a popular dessert called khao niew mamuag. Juice from fibrous ripe mangoes is poured over shaved ice to make a Jamaican treat called sky juice and blended into the refreshing Latin American milkshakes called batidos.

Mangoes are magnificent for cooking. The fruit can absorb spice, heat and fire with no loss of character, yet can be icy and refreshing in a sorbet. Cooks should use the mango's characteristics to enhance dishes and strive for a balance of contrasting sweet and tart flavors.

Many of the most richly flavored spices are grown in the tropics, and it is the choice of spices, herbs and condiments that distinguish tropical cooking today. Star anise, coriander seeds, black pepper, clove, vanilla, cardamom and turmeric all marry well with mango. Though the spicing is usually big, it is aromatic and balanced.

Spicing the mango can be as simple as salsa with garlic, cumin, chilies and cilantro or as refreshing as Thai steak and mango salad with fish sauce, lime, green onion and red chilies. Try a few of these irresistible combinations. The flavors are vibrant and the techniques are quick and easy.

Allen Susser, chef-owner of Chef Allen's in Aventura, is the author of The Great Mango Book (Ten Speed, $14.95; $10.47 online).

MAIN DISH Chicken and Green Mango Stew
Julie or Kent mangoes work well with this dish.
• 1 (3-pound) whole chicken, rinsed
• 2 cups chopped onion
• 1 cup chopped leeks (white part only)
• 1 cup chopped celery
• 1 large jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
• 8 large cloves garlic, minced
• 4 teaspoons kosher salt
• 2 cups canned coconut milk
• 1 cup (1-inch) cubed, peeled, mature green mango
• 1 cup (1-inch) cubed, peeled yuca
• 1 cup (1-inch) cubed, peeled boniato or sweet potato
• 1 cup (1-inch) cubed, peeled calabaza or acorn squash
• 6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
• 1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper
• 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
• 1/4 cup crushed peanuts

Put the chicken in a pot just large enough to hold it comfortably. Add cold water to cover and bring to a boil. Decrease heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Skim off any foam that surfaces. Add the onion, leeks, celery, chile, garlic and 3 teaspoons of the salt. Bring to a boil, then decrease heat to a simmer. Cook for 40 minutes, or until tender.

Remove the chicken and set aside. When cool, remove the skin and discard. Remove the meat and tear into large pieces. Cover and set aside.

Return the chicken bones to the broth and simmer for 30 minutes more. Strain and degrease the broth and set it aside.

Return 2 cups of the broth to the pot. Stir in coconut milk, mango and vegetables and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the mango and vegetables are just tender. Return the chicken pieces to the pot and simmer for 5 minutes. Season with the lime juice, pepper, and remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Serve in deep bowls, garnished with cilantro and peanuts. Makes 4 servings.

Source: Allen Susser.

Per serving: 950 calories (58 percent from fat), 80.9 g fat (33.8 g saturated, 14.6 g monounsaturated), 164 mg cholesterol, 58.2 g protein, 48.3 g carbohydrates, 10.2 g fiber, 2,296 mg sodium.

MAIN DISH Spring and Mango Curry
• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 6 large green onions, minced
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
• 2 tablespoons curry powder
• teaspoon cayenne
• 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
• 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
• 1 cup water
• 1/2 cup dry white wine
• 16 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
• 1 medium under-ripe mango, peeled, pitted and diced
• 2 tablespoons freshly chopped cilantro

In a heavy saucepan warm the oil. Sauté the green onions, garlic and ginger for 2 minutes. Add the curry, cayenne and salt and sauté for another 2 minutes. Add the sweet potato, water, and wine and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes. Add the shrimp and mango, bringing it back to a simmer for 4 or 5 minutes more, until the shrimp are cooked through. Garnish with cilantro. Serves 4.

Source: Allen Susser.

Per serving: 353 calories (26 percent from fat), 10.1 g fat (1.4 g saturated, 1.8 g monounsaturated), 216 mg cholesterol, 31.1 g protein, 30.4 g carbohydrates, 4.8 g fiber, 468 mg sodium.

MAIN DISH Thai Steak and Mango Salad
• 3 cloves garlic, minced
• 10 sprigs cilantro, stemmed (reserve stems)
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
• 3 tablespoons peanut oil
• 12 ounces skirt steak, trimmed of fat
• Inner leaves of 1 small bibb lettuce, washed and dried

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