Mangoes Make for Quintessentially Tropical Dishes

August 15, 2008

Considered by many to be the quintessential tropical fruit, mangoes have captivated the world with their unique flavor and relative ease of growth.

The distinctive taste of a fresh mango is one of those amazing pleasures given freely by Mother Nature.

Mangifera indica is a delicate fruit tree that thrives in tropical climates. Part of the Anacardiaceae family, mangoes are related to cashews and poison ivy. Like other members of this plant family, they produce a latex that can be irritating to some people. This white sap can be seen seeping from the stalk when picking a mango fresh from the tree. The latex is also found in the mango’s skin; peeling the fruit eliminates the source of the irritation.

The mango is believed to have originated in Burma and eastern India and spread from there to the Malay Archipelago and eastern Africa, where it has been cultivated, praised and even revered since ancient times.

Legend has it that Buddha himself was an avid mango eater, and was given a mango grove for meditation purposes. Buddhist monks are believed to have taken the mango on voyages to Malaysia and eastern Asia in the fourth and fifth centuries B.C. The mango is still a sacred symbol in India, and in Southeast Asia, mango leaves are hung above doorways as a symbol of goodness.

Mangoes were commonly grown in the East Indies before the earliest visits of the Portuguese, who introduced them to western Africa and Brazil in the early 16th century.

In the early 19th century, mangoes finally reached Mexico and Central America via the Philippines and West Indies.

In Costa Rica, mango trees grow almost everywhere, from the cool Central Valley plateau to the warm Pacific shores – perfect environments for their production. At the peak of the season, mangoes become so readily available that they can be picked right from the many roadside trees. In season, the price we pay for them can be ridiculously low: a few big, delicious fruits may be had for only a dollar or so.

Mango trees make beautiful landscape specimens and shade trees. Under the right conditions, they grow fast and erect. Their canopies can be either broad and rounded or more upright with a relatively slender crown. The mango is ultimately a large tree, reaching 20 to 27 meters in height. It is also very long-lived, with some specimens known to be more than 300 years old and still producing fruit.

Mango fruits range in weight from about 200 to 700 grams. In Costa Rica, the word mango refers to the smaller, more acidic and fibrous fruit; the manga is bigger, sweeter and more uniform; and mango cele is the small, tart green mango often sold at roadside stands, sliced and served in a bag with lime and salt.

Nutritionally, mangoes are high in vitamin C, vitamin A and calcium, with other trace minerals, vitamins and fats. They are also a great way to replenish potassium, especially for athletes and people on the go. They have a good amount of fiber; one good-size mango contains about 40 percent of your daily fiber requirement.

Whether sweet or tart, raw or cooked, the exotic mango exemplifies the true “taste of the tropics.”

Green Mango Salad

Ingredients:

2 large green mangoes, peeled and thinly julienned or coarsely grated

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped

1 tsp Thai curry paste

Juice of 2 lemons

1 tsp grated fresh ginger

1 tbs sesame oil

1 tsp hot sauce

1 tbs granulated sugar

1 tbs soy sauce

1 tbs rice vinegar

Directions:

1. Mix all ingredients in a bowl and toss well.

2. Marinate at least two hours in refrigerator.

3. Serve over a bed of lettuce and grated cabbage and garnish with sesame seeds and sprouts.

Makes five servings

 

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