Green Mangoes Make Mouth-Watering Salads
Green mangoes are an ingredient most westerners are not familiar with. One day last summer, while on a shopping trip to Asian markets near my home, I walked past two Caucasian women scrutinizing with disbelief a box of green mangoes, sitting next to another displaying perfectly ripe ones. One remarked to the other, “Why in the world would anyone pay $2.99 a pound for these hard green mangoes?” These words stopped me dead on my tracks and I couldn’t help but intrude: “Oh, but you don’t understand. It is a very Southeast Asian thing!”
Young green mangoes start appearing in early spring at Southeast Asian markets and a small, unpredictable supply trickles in through mid-summer. Whenever I come across a fresh-looking batch, I can’t resist picking up a few of these precious gems to take home.
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They remind me of childhood days during the early weeks of the mango season, when I eagerly checked under the trees in our backyard daily for freshly fallen ones that the wind, birds or squirrels might have knocked down. These excesses of nature, thinned from the trees to make room for the remaining to grow into fat, luscious fruits, are never allowed to go to waste. Sliced or shredded, they make mouth-watering snacks, relishes and dipping sauces for fish, tasty pickles and wonderful salads
The best for salads are found early in the season, before the golden ripe fruits hit the market in profusion. At that time, they are most likely to be truly young and immature, with seeds still soft and undeveloped. I pick the smallest, the firmest and the greenest – the peel revealing no hint of ripening red or yellow. Large ones, though green, are close to maturity and lose the delicious sourness that adds character to spicy salads, while those soft to the touch are ripening from too many days in shipment and storage, losing their desirable crisp texture.
A good and easy recipe follows. It is very hot and spicy, though if you do not wish to set your mouth on fire, simply cut down on the number of chillies, or do entirely without. If you are not able to find young green mangoes, this recipe work well also with tart green apples; or try any tart, crisp young fruits, such as peaches and nectarines. I usually add lime juice when substituting with fruits that are not very sour. Sometimes, this goes for some green mangoes, too, when they are lacking in sourness.
The recipe is basically an easy way to enjoy my green mangoes by dipping the peeled slices in a sugar, salt and fresh chilli mixture. I pound cut-up small Thai chillies in a mortar, then add sugar and enough salt to make the mixture almost as salty as it is sweet. When entertaining guests unfamiliar with mangoes except in their soft, ripened state, I toss the hot sugar-and-salt dip with the crisp mango slices and serve as a meal opener or ender. Tart apples and very firm nectarines are good this way, too.
With a bit more effort, my green mangoes are shredded and mixed with chillies, sliced shallot, ground dried shrimp, fish sauce, lime juice and a little palm sugar to make a delicious relish to serve with crispy fried fish – one very common and favorite restaurant dish in central and southern Thailand.
One of my cooking students once asked whether I had any idea what her new Southeast Asian neighbors did with the unripe, green plums they liked to pick from her tree. After trying the green mango salads in class, she understood and began to enjoy the fruits from her plum tree earlier in the season than she had in the many years she had lived on her land.
I formerly taught the following recipe in my weekend Series Set F (class 1) as “Sliced Crisp Green Mango with Chilli-Salt Dip.”
This recipe is also available on our website – Sliced Tart Crisp Green Mango with Chillies and Salt (with additional notes and pointers).
Sliced Tart Crisp Green Mango with Chillies and Salt – (Mamuang Yam Prik Gkap Gkleua)
- 2 cups small, thin bite-size slices of crisp green unripe mango
- 4-6 Thai chillies, cut into thin rounds
- 1/2 – 1 tsp. sea salt
- 2-3 tsp. granulated sugar
- 2 Tbs. freshly squeezed lime juice (about 1/2 to 1 lime)
The amount of sugar and lime juice to use will depend on how green and sour the mango is. The quantities suggested above is for a firm, crisp green mango that has started to yellow just a little.
Simply toss all the ingredients together well and enjoy!
Serves 3 to 4 as a snack.
Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, June 2010.