Mango markdown worth exploring

Wednesday, August 2, 2000

Late every summer the local grocers mark their mangoes down to 50 cents a piece. For all I know these are the same mangoes that were in the produce bins a couple of months ago, when they were rock hard and green, and it's simply time to move them out. In any case, the ones that have been on sale here lately are ripe and ready to eat. If you've never experimented with the flavor of mango, this is your chance to do it cheaply.

Although mangoes have developed more of a following here in the past couple of years, this tropical fruit is not universally loved. The flavor is stronger than really ripe peaches or papaya, and when mangoes are ripe they can be too sweet for some people. That's why mango turns up as an ingredient in fruity sauces and relishes. That way, its strong, almost musky taste is muted by association with other flavors; either the mango becomes a condiment to embellish meat or vegetables, or it's balanced against other ingredients in some mixture.

The flavor of mango works particularly well with fish, chicken or pork in the summer. It also can be used to flavor roasted vegetables. Because mango is so very sweet, it typically is used sparingly or is balanced against a sharp flavor, such as lime or vinegar.

One of the best sandwiches I've ever eaten in a restaurant was served to me last summer in Washington, D.C. Its filling contained turkey, alfalfa sprouts and a dressing made of mango and blue cheese. The play of the flavors of mango and blue cheese was heavenly. I have been unable to find a recipe and have tried to duplicate the dressing through trial and error, but have not gotten it right. For one thing, there's a wide variety of flavor in blue cheeses, and mangoes grow markedly sweeter as they ripen, so simple ratios of ingredients aren't reliable. Back to the test kitchen.

Meanwhile, here are some mango condiment recipes to try with summertime foods, such as grilled meats. Both are from "Allen Susser's New World Cuisine and Cookery" (Doubleday), which features a nice variety of Caribbean recipes.

Select mangoes that are firm but not hard. The red mangoes in local stores change from green to red as they ripen; you want them when red is showing but probably before all the green disappears. When you slice one open, slit it lengthwise, remove the disk-shaped pit and then peel the fruit with a paring knife. If you peel the fruit before you remove the pit, you may end up with a handful of mush.

Mango Ketchup

5 medium mangos

3 tablespoons vinegar

1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger

Dash ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup white wine

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 whole clove

Peel and pit the mangoes. Puree the pulp in a food processor fitted with a stainless steel blade. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse together.

In a heavy-sided saucepan, cook the mixture over low heat for 1 hour, until well reduced and thickened. Remove from the heat and cool. Strain through a fine sieve. Let sit refrigerated for 24 hours before using. Makes 2 quarts

Mango Salsa

1 large mango

1/2 large papaya

1/2 medium red bell pepper, diced

1/2 medium red onion, diced

1 small jalapeno, diced finely

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Slit the mango, remove the pit and peel. Remove the seeds from the papaya and peel. Dice both fruits into small cubes.

In a large bowl, combine the mango and papaya cubes, red pepper, onion, jalapeno and cilantro. Season with the cumin, olive oil and fresh lime juice. Makes 1 cup.