Returning recently after a holiday to the humid embrace of muggy Manila, I had one gratifying consolation: I was back in the land of mangoes. I am unabashedly biased–I have tried mangoes from Thailand, Mexico, Australia, India and others of unknown origin, and I think Philippine mangoes are the best in the world. One particular variety known as the carabao mango is succulent, sweet, juicy with a pure mango flavor (no hint of guava or apple, as other varieties have) that is an incomparable and singular taste memory to most Filipinos.
When I was a child mangoes were a seasonal fruit abundant in the hot months between February and April and forever linked in nostalgia to the end of school, the longs days of Lent, and summer prickly heat. My mother was a great fan: she would buy a bushel at a time, each one cleverly stacked with the ripest on top and the greenest at the bottom, so that you could “harvest” 5 or 6 ripe mangoes everyday for about a week. And you bought another when the basket was empty, and another, all through the mango season until they were gone and you said goodbye to mangoes until the next year.
Today mangoes can be had the whole year round and they are enjoyed in many ways. Green (unripe, sour) mangoes are peeled, sliced and eaten with salty condiments like bagoong, chopped with tomatoes and onions to make relishes and salads, pickled in vinegar, salt and sugar. Ripe mangoes are juiced, dried, made into jams, ice cream, sherbets and a host of sweets and desserts. For me the best way to enjoy ripe mangoes is to eat them plain, sliced open in 3 pieces, the flesh scooped out with a spoon, and the pulp of the seed eaten over the kitchen sink 🙂 Ripe mangoes are also traditionally paired with suman– sweet sticky rice cakes made with coconut milk and steamed in banana or buri leaves.
I had these mangoes for breakfast recently with homemade yoghurt. Yoghurt is surprisingly easy to prepare. I was buying it regularly ready-made, until a lady at an Indian grocery taught me how to make it. For about a liter of yoghurt, heat a liter of milk (skimmed, low-fat or whole, it doesn’t matter) in a pot to almost boiling point, about 90 degrees Celsius. This kills any pathogens that may be in the milk that could interfere with the probiotics you want to encourage. Let the milk cool down to room temperature, or about 35 degrees Celsius. Add in about a quarter cup of good starter yoghurt (make sure it has an active culture), mix thoroughly, cover, and set aside at room temperature and do not touch for 8 to 12 hours. That’s it! You only need to buy commercial starter once, as you should keep some of your current batch to start the next one. This is wonderful, tangy, textured yoghurt that you can flavor and sweeten (or not) as you wish, wonderful on its own, to make lassi, to use in cooking, in cereal and of course, with fresh ripe mangoes.