My South Canara Summer of Mangoes

My South Canara Summer of Mangoes

In South Canara, the mango is far more than a seasonal fruit. It is a celebration of the summer.

The anticipation of slicing into the season’s first mango, the heady aroma of raw mangoes ripening slowly in your kitchen, are just some of the delights of the Indian summer. A panacea from the punishing heat of the great Indian summer, mangoes are symbols of prosperity and auspiciousness. Referred to as God’s gift to the tropics, India has the unique distinction of being the largest producer and consumer of mango, with over 250 cultivars in the country. Given its popularity, it is little wonder that mangoes form an integral part of Indian cuisine, with each region boasting its own unique culinary specialities. 

Growing up in Hyderabad, my earliest memories of summer are the delectable Banganapalli mango. It was when we stocked up on the Andhra ‘avakaya’ pickle; uneven chunks mango sliced with the seed, and pickled using generous amounts of salt, chilli powder, mustard powder and gingelly oil. When we moved back to our home town in Bangalore, mango chutney and mango chitra anna, or mango-rice, were favourites on the summer table.

But it is in the cuisine of coastal Karnataka that mango is employed to its zenith, reaching as far as the imagination dares. In my first brush with the traditional cuisine of Kota brahmins (a community that hails from the villages of Kota, Saligrama, Koteshwara and Kundapura of Udupi district), soon after my wedding, I tasted dishes as varied as rasam, sambar, chutney, payasam, ‘gojju’ (tangy sauces) and curries, all using mango. Here, the mango was revered as far more than a seasonal fruit; it was instead, a celebration of the summer. The fruit is widely used in everyday cooking, in both its raw and ripe form. This philosophy extends right through the coastal towns of Udupi and Mangalore as well, where the recipes are simple, flavourful and can be rustled up in a jiffy.

RAW MANGO: AN ALL-ROUND FAVOURITE

Characterised by the generous use of tamarind, fresh coconut and coconut oil, tangy and sour flavours are a favourite in coastal Karnataka. “Apart from the fact that strong, sour flavours are preferred by our palates, raw mango has a cooling effect which makes it perfect for the hot, humid summers here,” says Viji Rao, 55, a homemaker and passionate home chef from Saligrama. Raw mangoes ground with salt, green chillies, hing and fresh coconut, and drizzled with coconut oil as dressing, are the perfect accompaniment to idlis and dosas at breakfast. And when time allows, fenugreek seeds, urad dal and red chillies are roasted and ground with coconut and mango for a more elaborate version of this chutney. 

Variations of the mango gojju, made with boiled raw mangoes dominate lunch fare. Pieces of raw mango are substituted for tamarind in the gulla sambar (gulla is the spherical green brinjal native to the Udupi region) and Mangalore southekai (cucumber) sambhar. Both of these are signature preparations of the Udupi cuisine. “A light rasam made from mango is a customary dish served as an appetiser on the occasion of festivals and weddings,” says Ambika Holla, from Kundapur, who runs a catering business in Bangalore. 

RIPE MANGO

The ripe fruit is equally treasured, and finds its way into sauces and preparations like ‘harive soppu’ (Amaranth leaves) sambar. For the latter, ripe mango is added in a small quantity, for the flavour and aroma, and as a substitute to jaggery as sweetener. Blend coconut milk with the pulp of ripe mango, add a dash of cardamom powder and jaggery and you have a quick dessert payasam. It is also an ideal accompaniment for ‘shavige’ (string hoppers).

Plate by Indus People. Shop their collection  here .

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PRESERVATION FOR OFF-SEASON

Given that mango is a such a prized commodity, summer is also when the fruit is preserved for use through the rest of the year. Whole raw fruits are partially boiled with salt and preserved in saline water. Stored in pickle jars or refrigerated, the pulp of ripe mangoes is also carefully stored, to be used judiciously on special occasions later in the year. Apart from traditional pickles, ‘mavina hindi’ is a common preparation in this region. Raw mangoes are washed and thoroughly dried in the sun. The skin is removed, and the mango is cut and ground with salt, asafoetida and red chilli powder, without adding water. Preserved in air tight containers, this paste is taken out in small quantities, mixed with jaggery and garnished with coconut oil seasoning to make for an easy and delicious ‘chutney’ that is enjoyed all year round.


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Recipe: Appe Mavinkai Saru

Raw mango rasam, served as an appetiser
Serves 4

Ingredients
1 raw mango
¼ tsp turmeric powder
2 green chillies
1 tsp jaggery
½ cup diluted coconut milk
Salt, to taste

For seasoning
2 tsp coconut oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
4-5 curry leaves

Method
Wash and cook the raw mango in water until very soft. You can also pressure cook the mango instead.
Once cooked and cooled, extract the thick pulp of the mango removing the skin and seed.
Crush the green chillies into the pulp. Add water and mix.
Add salt, jaggery and bring to a boil.
Add the diluted coconut milk, then remove from heat.
In a pan, heat coconut oil and add mustard seeds.
Once they splutter, add curry leaves. Now pour over the rasam.
Note: this dish is served in a glass and is meant to be sipped on as a beverage. So make sure enough water is added, and the coconut milk is thin.

Rashmi Gopal Rao is a freelance writer and blogger based in Bangalore, India.

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