Sweet or sour

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 March, 2009, 12:00am

Mangoes can be mouthwatering in more ways than one; when unripe, the fruit has a sharp, acidic flavour that gets the saliva going. The unripe (green) mango is used to make refreshing Thai salads, dips and a delicious sweet and salty-sour Indian chutney.

The mango is popularly thought of as having an orange skin that matches the colour of the flesh but the exterior can also be deep red or patchy red-and-green. The fruit ranges in size from the tiny 'kidney' mangoes (in season now) to about 14cm in length. They grow in Southeast Asia, India, Australia and North and South America.

The fruit has a distinctive long, flat seed (stone) that can be difficult to extract: unlike those in the apricot and some varieties of peaches, the flesh of the mango clings to its stone and must be cut away with a knife. The easiest way is to lay the mango on its flattish side and with a sharp knife, slice parallel to the cutting board, slightly above the fruit's stem. When the knife reaches the seed, cut through the fruit with the blade cutting over the stone as close to it as possible. Turn it over and do the same to the other side. You'll end up with three pieces. With the two fleshy pieces, use a large, flat spoon to scoop the fruit from the skin. There's no easy way to remove the fruit from the stone but if you want an efficient method, simply bite off the flesh (the juices will run down your chin, so stand over a sink or use a napkin).

A ripe mango will be slightly yielding if you press it gently (don't press too hard because they bruise easily) but the best way to judge ripeness is to use your nose - it will smell sweet and enticing. If the fruit is over-ripe, it will look bruised and sometimes have a fermented taste. Throw such pieces of fruit away because they can cause an upset stomach. Unripe mangoes are pale green and firm.

It's difficult to find cooked mango dishes that taste better than the raw fruit. One dish I like is butterflied shrimp or scallops fixed around a small chunk of mango then lightly battered and deep-fried: the seafood protects the fruit so it tastes raw.

The fruit also makes a lovely dessert sauce: simply puree it and mix with a little sugar syrup and fresh lemon juice.

For Thai green mango salad, julienne the fruit and pound it in a mortar with dried shrimp, garlic, shallots, red bird's-eye chillies, fish sauce, fresh lime juice and a little sugar.