Ripe for the picking

You can’t have enough of mangoes — not even at the end of season

Come mango season, and the Menon clan is a happy lot. Summer is when Amma is at her best, bustling around in the kitchen, sorting, washing and preparing piles of raw baby mangoes for her signature kadumanga — fiery, oil-free pickle — and the other varieties of the relish that we love to devour with curd rice and papadam when the rain comes.

Summer is also officially the start of an extended culinary affair with all things mango, as Amma treats us to an extraordinary variety of mango curries. As the raw mangoes yield to the golden yellow ones, the tangy delicacies make way for sweet-and-sour curries.

Amma’s mango curries are cleverly paired with vegetables and fish — recipes that her great-aunts taught her as she grew up in our ancestral home in Kerala’s Malappuram district.

These recipes are special to me for they also bring to mind our annual visits to Kerala when we climbed up mango trees and ate raw mangoes with salt, perched precariously on the branches.

Summer holidays were also about sitting cross-legged on the floor in the spacious nadu talam (room at the centre of the house) at lunch time and eating sumptuous meals on banana leaves, crushing papadams into the sambar and polishing it off with the rice.

The fisherfolk who lived by the sea, a mile or two away, would arrive in the village on certain days of the week, their baskets flush with the catch of the day. Grandma, whose meal was never complete without a spicy fish curry and fish fry, would wait for him to pass by our gate and would choose the plumpest mackerel — aila — for the household. Her aila curry and fry remain to this day a family favourite.

Amma remembers summers in Kerala when mangoes, jackfruit, ash gourd and pumpkins were aplenty. Her aunts would churn out one magical dish after the other, each made from the fresh produce available in the kitchen garden or the orchards surrounding the ancestral home.

Hot summers meant there were few vegetables available in the market and so tur dal appeared on the menu in many variations, including a very delicious dish with peeled jackfruit seeds. Grandma’s raw mango and ash gourd curry with tur dal remains my personal favourite; each time I eat it I am unfailingly transported back to the time I loitered around the kitchen waiting for mealtime, so I could relish this tart curry seated next to achchan (father).

During the monsoon, the women craved something tart and spicy to go with the staple evening meal of hot kanji made with red, unpolished rice. We were forever waiting to be told to climb the mango tree at the back of the kitchen and pluck a couple of green mangoes. One of the great-aunts would toss a few red chillies into a pan on the wood-fired stove and prepare a fiery chammandi, which would be the perfect accompaniment to the steaming hot kanji.

Amma’s raw mango chammandi is special. For this, she uses 2-3 ripe or raw mangoes, 4-5 roasted whole red chillies, one-fourth of a chopped onion and salt. She grinds all the ingredients together into a fine paste and then drizzles over it a teaspoon of coconut oil. This is served with rice/kanji or dosas.

We wait for Amma’s annual visit to our house, for that’s when the divine aromas of Kerala cuisine embrace the kitchen and the apartment. Amma, 72, believes that the cure for every minor ailment lies in a plateful of rice and curry. With papadam and mango pickle, of course!

Sudha Menon is the author of five non-fiction books including her latest, Feisty At Fifty

Raw mango and ash gourd curry

Ingredients

  • 1/4 kg ash gourd chopped into 1-inch cubes or skinned drumsticks, chopped into 2-3 inch pieces
  • 2-3 chopped raw mangoes
  • 1/2 grated coconut
  • 3-4 fistfuls of tur dal
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp chilli powder
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1 whole red chilli
  • 2 sprigs curry leaves

Method

1 Cook the tur dal, mangoes and ash gourd/drumsticks with chilli powder, turmeric and salt. Grind the coconut and cumin seeds to a fine paste.

2 Add the paste to the dal and vegetables and cook till the dal starts bubbling. Season with the whole red chilli, mustard and fenugreek seeds and toss in the curry leaves at the end.

Mackerel and mango curry

Ingredients

500 g mackerel fillet, cleaned

1 raw mango cut into cubes

Salt to taste

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp chopped ginger

2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed

Red chilli powder as per taste

To grind

1/2 cup grated coconut

4 tsp coriander powder

1/4 of an onion, chopped

1 sprig curry leaves

2 tsp coconut oil

Method

1 Cook the fish and raw mangoes together with salt, chilli powder, ginger and garlic in a pan. 

2 Roast the grated coconut, coriander powder, onion and curry leaves in coconut oil on a low fire till the mix turns a golden brown. Cool, grind to a fine paste, add to the fish and mango and boil for 5-7 minutes. Add the curry leaves. Serve with steaming hot rice, dosa, idli or appam.

Recipes by Amma (Pramila Radhakrishnan)

Published on August 09, 2019
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