Hot, bright, sunny, sizzling, blazing, sweaty, sweltering, baking, scorching, roasting, glowing, shimmering shining, radiating, searing – there are any number of adjectives with connotations positive and negative to describe the nature of summer. To us in tropical countries, summer is often an unwelcome quantity of heat, dust, ants, and more irritants; it is also the season of a bounty of delights that include mangoes, watermelons, jamun (Indian blackberry), muskmelon, oranges and much more.
As children, summers are a time for fun, excursions and treats, but you also had to answer those tiresome annual exam question papers all over again. In my school, at least. Summer is the time for older relatives to summon kids and ask for some chilli powder to sprinkle on green mangoes, only to discover it is kumkum (vermilion powder used to decorate the forehead)!
Summer is the time for munjalu (tadgola/ nungu/ toddy palm fruit/ ice-apples) to be sold in baskets or brought in from relatives’ villages in a conical sack fashioned from the tree’s leaves. Summer is the time when Grandfather, with his graceful surgeon’s hands, skillfully peeled these and slipped them into our waiting hands so that they could slide down our throats like silk. A time that found him diligently cutting mangoes into a steel basin and putting it in the fridge so they could make a juicy, cool treat for us later. Yes, summer is all this and more – in terms of food, its colours are yellow, orange, grey, purple, pink, red, green.
That this could make a post hit me last week when I was landed with a pile of mango skins all golden and gleaming – I set about photographing these peels after cubing the mangoes and tucking them away in little individual containers in the fridge – they make a cool, sweet, tangy refreshing treat all by themselves. Eat them plain and succulent, the juice running down your chin greedily, squished into vanilla ice-cream or use them in a variety of desserts, they rarely fail to please. I know that’s probably a sweeping generalization, but I can’t help feeling it’s true.
Of course, I’m talking about Indian mangoes. I haven’t tried the ones found outside India but family and friends complain the ones in the US are not quite the same. The newspapers last week were full of news about how the first batch of mangoes was exported to the US after years; maybe you can taste some so you know what they mean. But that was just one variety. There are several. There are some that you can’t peel, either, the rasalu – they are so fibrous and full of pulp that the only way to eat them is squeeze them slowly but surely from the bottom so that the juice finds its way up, puncture the top and ingest it.
Want to know how to cube mangoes? It’s probably old hat but I’m allowing myself to get carried away – if it’s a firm mango, just ripe, wash it thoroughly, peel it with a peeler. Make sure it doesn’t slither out of your hands. Once you’ve peeled it, score both sides lengthwise and breadthwise with a sharp knife. Now stand the mango in a plate/dish, and use the knife to sever the scored side as one half – the cubes will separate neatly by themselves. Repeat on the other side. Do the same with the bits on the side. Scrape the remaining flesh off the stone or just eat it with abandon!
If it’s squishy, don’t bother peeling it. Cut it into slices and serve. Or cut it into two discs lengthwise, one on either side of the seed, and scoop the flesh out with a spoon. Cut it into two halves around the middle, from one point round to another, through to the stone, so that it forms two cups when you twist one side against another – like an avocado? – one will stay attached to the stone (which you will have to remove), the other will be hollow – fill it with fruit or more ice-cream, dig in!
And now, to come back to the present, I have a recipe that’s quite different and unconnected. It’s for mutton fry – here’s how you go about it.
Mutton – 500 gm
Onions – 3, finely sliced, fried brown (sprinkle some salt on them, fry in two tbsp of oil, in simmer mode – takes time, but worth it)
Ginger-garlic paste – 2 tsp
Turmeric – ½ tsp
Salt – to taste
Chilli powder – 1 or 1-1/2 tsp
Garam masala/curry powder – 1-2 tbsp
Water – 1.5 cups
Oil – 1 tbsp
Coriander/cilantro – a little, chopped, for garnish
Apply salt, chilli powder, ginger-garlic paste and turmeric to the mutton, pressure cook with the water. Make sure the meat doesn’t turn mushy (for beginners, this is trial and error, I’m afraid) - this took me about 15 minutes after the cooker came to full pressure. Let the pressure drop by itself. Once you open the cooker, strain the stock and put it away – you can use this for soup later. Saute the meat in the oil, check for salt and chilli, add the curry powder and the browned onion. Fry some more, turn off the heat and add the coriander. The addition (or substitution) of fresh cracked pepper makes a nice variation. You can even use a green chilli in place of the chilli powder.
I am sending this off to Weekend Herb Blogging hosted by creator Kalyn this week.
Colour of Summer Mangoes Mutton WHB