It’s only now, after living in Europe for over five years that I can truly appreciate the Europeans’ love of the sun and summer. After the dark wet days of winter and the moody greys of spring and autumn, summer in Europe is a delight for the soul and the senses.
Summer in the plains of North India where I come from, is loooong, HOT, dusty and brutish. Wake up and the sun is high in the sky already; at its zenith, it forces you to stay indoors, shades drawn, houses dark and cool. Even after sundown, when you step out for a late night ice lolly, the summer wind, the infamous Loo still blows hot, bringing with it particles of fine desert sand that layer the surface of just-shined furniture in a few hours.
But we humans are ingenious and resilient creatures, and we’ve evolved various mechanisms to cope with our climate. Cool white chikan cottons, khus-perfumed air coolers, tall glasses of Rooh Afza (rose sherbet), bamboo chiks (blinds)…all of which carry for me, the nostalgia of summers past.
Mother Nature is also generous in offering us compensation for our sufferings – watermelons, musk melons, and litchis flood the markets and the taste buds. But the king of all fruits, undisputedly, is the mango. In my culture, its not just a fruit – it’s a fruit laden with significance and meaning. A symbol of abundance and fertility, garlands of mango leaves are strung across doorways in welcome and celebration. The mango blossom is symbol of beauty and innocence, and is celebrated in the famous Paisley design, our contribution to the world of fashion. (Just check out the design on the masthead of this blog – are you surprised that it is what it is?!)
And the fruit itself? Well what can I say? Just that there is nothing like the sweet, juicy mango-ey taste of Indian mangoes. Once you’ve tasted Indian (and I concede, Pakistani) mangoes you will never eat any other (Here I will beg the indulgence of my South American friends with whom I have a long running debate on the topic …). The months of May-Aug are marked by the arrivals of different varieties of mangoes, each distinct from the other, and each with its band of ardent followers, many of whom would happily challenge you to a duel to prove the superiority of their favourite mangoes over yours!
Here in Italy we do get imported mangoes in the supermarket – I’m sure you’d have understood by now that in my eyes they are well…how do I say this? Yes they are mangoes but…
But hey! I’m not one to give up so easily! If I see it, I figure out a use for it! It’s not so great to eat, but with its sweet-sour taste and firm texture, it works fantastically well as a salad ingredient. That’s what I use it for when I get nostalgic around this time of year – the flavors and senses transport me back to an Indian summer, and it is a delicious, healthy and refreshing addition to a meal or a barbecue.
COOL SUMMERY MANGO SALAD
* Mango (firm, not fully ripe) – 1
* Cucumber – 1 or 2
* Fresh mint leaves – a few
* Juice of 1 lemon or lime
* Peanut oil (or any vegetable oil)
* Sesame seeds (optional)
* Red chili flakes – 1 pinch (optional)
* Crushed salted peanuts – 1 tbsp (optional)
* Sugar – 1 big pinch
* Salt to taste
– Peel the mango, Slice and cut into thin slivers
– Peel and de-seed the cucumber. I’ve worked out an easy method here. Cut the cucumber into cylinders, then use an apple corer to deseed. Slice into slivers like the mango. Shredding or grating it would make it too watery, which would give you a soggy, not crunchy salad
– Toss in all of the remaining ingredients (except the mint and peanuts), and chill well (if its going to be many hours before you eat, it might be better to leave out the salt at this point and add it just before serving)
– Before serving, mix again, scatter over the peanuts and the mint and serve
Enjoy the summer holidays!