There's nothing quite like that first bite of a juicy mango, the sweet rush of flavor that drips down your chin and sometimes, even your elbows. Ranging in size, flavor, and colors like deep purple and neon yellow, the versatile tropical fruit is a well-loved symbol of summer. Native to India, mangoes undergo a ripening process that produces fleshy peach flavors, buttery tartness, and sour, fibrous bites that can be used in a number of dishes like smoothies, cocktails, salsa, chutney, ice cream, and more.
Around the world popular types of mangoes include the Alphonso, Julie, and Ataulfo. The battle of which is best will almost always depend on regional pride and heartwarming memories. In the Caribbean, there are over 100 different varieties of mangoes alone. Seeing mounds of the brightly colored fruit spilling over roadside stalls around the world serves as a reminder of the sustenance it has brought to many hungry stomachs. In this way, the mango is just as much a symbol of survival as it is of summer.
To James Beard-winning chef Nina Compton, a St. Lucia native, mangoes celebrate island life. “Mangoes play an important role in the Caribbean because the flavor immediately takes you to visions of sand, ocean, and lush tropical forests. Not really being grown north of Miami aids in that romanticism, as well as the commerce generated by shipping mangoes to the States.”
This summer, Compton joined chef Allen Susser for Jade Mountain resort's Mango Madness Festival at Home. Despite travel restrictions, people were able to gather virtually to celebrate the beloved fruit of St. Lucia, which has over 30 varieties of mangoes. During the festival, Susser and Compton created dishes like mango chutney and a hot and spicy snapper with pickled mango puree. Susser, who is well-known in the culinary world for his passion for mangoes, features a different recipe on his Instagram page each week. His followers at home learn the true versatility of the fruit with recipes that center mangoes as the star of the show, including ginger tarts, chicken curry, macadamia nut ice cream, and slaws from mature green mangos to accompany shrimp tacos.
To pick a perfect mango, Susser says to look for firm, unblemished skin, usually with bright colors. Next, it’s all about the smell. “Most mangos should smell the way you want them to taste. I look for a pleasantly sweet tropical aroma at the stem end. No smell usually means no taste, and that your mango is not yet ripe,” he says. Lastly, like any fruit, mangos should feel heavy for their size. And speaking of size, Susser’s favorite way to use the fruit is by making a 25-pound mango mojito.
Compton’s use of the mango leaves out the rum and opts for a more natural ingredient instead: the ocean. “My best memories of mangoes go back to St. Lucia. We had mango trees in our garden and my siblings and I would climb and pick them. We would take them to the beach and dip slices in the salt water for a little extra flavor,” she shares. While she doesn’t encourage dipping mangos in water at a crowded beach now, Compton does enjoy pickling mangoes, then adding them to a tartar sauce for fish and conch dishes. “If you have the patience for canning, mango jam or preserves are a great treat on your morning toast,” she added.
Like Compton, for New Delhi-based ITC chef Manisha Bhasin, mangoes represent a special time and place in her life. “My best memory of mangoes involves my childhood summer vacation in my grandmother's house in Kanpur, a city in heartland of mango belt where we get the best Dussehri mangoes. My grandfather would get mangoes for all of us and it would immediately go in a wooden water pail to chill. I recall all the cousins fighting for the largest stocks, weighing mangoes with our hands to get the largest and juiciest one dribbling down our clothes,” she says. India is the largest producer of mangoes in the world, and there, the fruit is a symbol of love, wealth, and fertility.
To tap into the diversity of mangoes in cooking, Bhasin suggests pairing it with chicken or adding it to a fish curry along with coconut milk—for what she calls a very unusual, but delicious combination in savory curries. For barbecue, she suggests taking a semi ripe mango with skin on, marinating it in a dash of chili, then salt and grill lightly. It’s a unique twist that can pair well with barbecued meats or topping on salads. She adds, “when having mangos raw or semi ripe, sprinkle them with a little black salt and cumin, and you will have another spectrum of taste evolving in salads or in drinks.”
Whether ripe, matured, sweet or acidic, mangoes can elevate so many dishes, and evoke so many memories. So the next time you’re in the grocery store or at a farmer’s market and see the fruit, pick it up, smell it, and let your imagination inspire your next meal. Because when it comes to culinary creations, mangos are ripe for the taking.