Green mango salad: When eating local can shove it

To get perfect mangoes in Canada, you need a plane and maybe mob ties. Luckily, this dish is best with unripe fruit


Juliet Waters
June 15, 2010 5:01AM (UTC)

This entry for the Salon Kitchen Challenge -- in which we asked readers to share their favorite fruit recipes -- comes to us courtesy of Juliet Waters. We haven't had a chance to try this recipe out yet, but we'd love to hear about it if you do!

For me, fruit will probably always be a little fraught with guilt.

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Oh, what's that, California locavore? Your vast variety of tiny carbon footprint fruit is always picked by workers being paid $20 an hour from farms less than five miles away?

Yeah, well, good for you. I live in Montreal, and up here the only local fruit is apples, and a couple of months of melons, berries and Ontario peaches shipped in on small trucks that probably trample the world with more carbon than three years of Honduran bananas flown in on freight planes. Our blueberries are divine, but they won't be coming in until mid-summer.

If I were a better person I would probably find a way to have fun with the early, still somewhat tasteless Quebec-grown strawberries. Or the melons, which are good, but which I know I'm going to be eating all summer.

But after reading Francis Lam's mango article, I'm jonesin' bad. And not for one of those supermarket mangoes, or one from the corner fruit store of that nice Korean couple.

I have to see my man.

Too few people know this, but the fruit business is, well, seedy in more senses than the germination one. Fruit is one of the last tax-free products. Vast quantities of it get dumped and go missing every day, making it, like the garbage business, one that attracts money launderers, bookies, drug dealers and people with secrets to hide. Sandwiched in between the quasi-criminal distributors are the people just trying to offload their cheap waxy fruit on you as they make most of their money on family-size boxes of Honey Nut cheerios or lottery tickets.

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For the best fruit, you need someone who, how shall we say it, knows the business. An Inside Guy. I met mine through fellow Montrealer Adam Gollner, who wrote a great book a couple of years back called "The Fruit Hunters: A Story of Nature, Adventure, Commerce, and Obsession."

I won't name our inside guy, because I don't want to get on the wrong side of some of his best clients, who I've noticed have a tendency to drive up in glossy black cars and wear a little too much gold chain jewelry. I'll just call him Dave, and say that he manages the most awesome fruit store in the city. The one that all the best restaurants get their fruit from, and one that has a loyal and wealthy enough customer base that he can stock nothing but the most perfect fruit and vegetables, quite possibly, in the world.

The day that Adam brought me to meet Dave, he walked us around the store cutting off generous tasting chunks from raspberry plums, South American melons, and white Californian peaches that Adam swore were better than the one he'd eaten a week before in San Francisco.

I knew the mango I was going to get was great. I just hoped it wasn't going to be from Israel. The possibility flooded me with childhood memories of fasting for Cesar Chavez and avoiding South African Granny Smiths. Israelis do ship a nice mango, but eating one right now would probably feel to my early liberal childhood programming like eating a humanitarian activist.

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Fortunately, when I arrive at his store, Dave tells me that today's best mango is from Brazil. Really? I ask. What's so special about this mango? "Picked ripe off the tree," he tells me, "and flown immediately here so that it will be perfect for today." There's an emphasis on "today" that triggers a feeling that I've forgotten some significant calendar event. Father's Day? No, that's next week. And anyway it's Saturday. "The first day of the World Cup?" I ask. Dave looks at me like I'm from another planet. "It's Grand Prix Weekend."

Holy shit. I've totally forgotten. This year, Montreal is the only city in North America holding a Formula 1 Grand Prix race. Obscenely rich people from around the world have flown into the city to watch the race and drive sales up at Montreal's finest restaurants by an average of 200 percent. High-glam parties are being held all over town. Right now head Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger is getting ready to host hers at a swank downtown hotel. And it's Dave's responsibility to make sure that everyone this weekend is getting the best of the world's best fruit.

Knowing this, I go weak at the knees. I'm like the Hunter S. Thompson of fruit, about to eat possibly the best mango of my life. Dave cuts off two slices, one for me and one for my son. There's not much that will make a 9-year-old boy swoon. Short of a personal training session with Ronaldo, a freshly picked mango from Brazil is probably the next best thing. The firm but buttery orange fruit melts in our mouths like baby food of the gods.

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I ask Dave to pick me out three nice ones. Forget about looking for taut skin on mangoes picked ripe from the tree. These mangoes have the tiny wrinkles of a woman about to hit her prime. What's important, Dave explains as he squeezes them tenderly and expertly, is the texture beneath.

Despite the expense, I'm glad I've bought three. Later I'll realize that these are not the kind of mangoes you can turn into hedgehog designs. They make gorgeous chunks, but only if you slice pieces off the pit, and then surgically remove the skin afterward.

On the way home, we stop at Ultra fruit, another fruit store, which on this day has set out a mango tasting buffet. I've shopped at this store before. The prices are much lower and they're good for bananas, pineapple, dates and stuff that only needs to be good, not perfect. My son and I taste Tommy mangoes from Mexico, Keitts from Puerto Rico, Francis mangoes from Haiti, and Honey ones from the Dominican Republic. They're good, but nothing close to our ripe Brazilians.

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A recipe would just distract from the perfect mango. If I were buying from Ultra fruit, I might make a salad (see recipe below), or some Indian burfi (condensed milk) ice cream with extra ripe ones.

But that doesn't mean you can't do anything interesting with the perfect mango. After I've enjoyed a couple of euphoric chunks of nature, I decide to experiment with just a sprinkle of really high-quality spice.

First a dried Kala Oya ginger from Sri Lanka. This is almost like ginger pepper. A tiny bit does that special thing that ginger does to mango. You know the way a dot of black makes white look whiter? Just the right pinch of premium ginger seems to make the ambrosial smoothness seem even more so. On another chunk I try some freshly toasted and smashed Indian coriander seed. This adds a slightly perfumed nuttiness and a tiny bit of crunch to remind the mouth that the now melted chunk of mango wasn't just a dream.

A nice adventure, but in the end I'm happy to go back to the naked fruit.

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Keeping in mind, however, that this is a recipe challenge, and not everyone has a Dave in his or her life, here's a recipe you can use with any old mango.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon Thai Chili Paste
  • 1 tablespoon Thai Fish Sauce
  • 2 teaspoon memmi or teriyaki sauce
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1/3 cup of water
  • 6 small, or 3 big, unripe mangoes
  • 1 red pepper, julienned
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups white cabbage, shredded
  • ¼ cup peanuts, crushed

Directions

  1. Put the chili paste, fish sauce, Memmi, garlic and 1/3 cup water in a pot. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
  2. Peel mangoes. Using a very sharp knife, chop the mango flesh lengthwise against the pit repeatedly to "shred." Slice the mango shreds from the pit from top to bottom.
  3. Combine the shredded mangoes, pepper, onion and cabbage. Set aside.
  4. Once sauce is cool, pour over salad ingredients. Toss. Add crushed peanuts. Toss again. Serve cold.

 

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Juliet Waters

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