Sunday, June 19, 2011

When Monkeys Hurl Mangoes (or How To Make Mango Chutney)

This morning I had a fruitful walk. It was Sunday and there were not too many walkers, mostly the regulars. I decided to take a different path from most of them and wandered into clumps of trees and rambled alongside old bungalows that serve as offices. Suddenly I spotted a mango on the ground and picked it up (the mangoes on these trees are small but flavourful). It had teeth marks on it and I threw it back on the ground. As I walked along I saw plenty of such mangoes, many half eaten, flung carelessly in all directions. Monkeys at work! This is the time when one really appreciates descriptions of marauding monkeys that one reads about in the Ramayana. As I walked further down, I saw many more such mangoes but to my surprise, they were all intact. I don't know if they had been hurled uneaten or had just fallen as the monkeys leapt from tree to tree. For me it was a windfall.

I collected all of them and somehow, arms full of small, slightly squishy, sticky fruit, managed to walk down in the direction of my house. These mangoes were wonderfully fresh - I could feel the sap that clung to them and smell the distinctive tang of raw mangoes around me. The walkers stared at me and a raven cawed disapprovingly. I tossed my head. Almost home! Just the last stretch past the dogs. From the corner of my eye, I saw an elderly man sitting on a stone slab, watching me. As I walked past, he suddenly stood up and I was expecting a string of questions about where (and how) I had got those mangoes! Instead, he held out a plastic bag. "You can use this," he said in that old, polite Bangalore style. I thanked him and explained about the monkeys and offered him many mangoes, but he refused to take any. "You keep them," he said and there was a twinkle in his eye.

Back home - and thinking what to do with them. Decided to make some into a chutney, which is quick and easy. Of course, as I began, I thought about other options - a cooked curry with tamarind and jaggery, an uncooked curry with ground coconut and mustard or just roasted mangoes with salt, cumin and jaggery - they all taste different and they are all very good! This is something one doesn't find in most cookbooks (and, naturally, never in the western ones). There have been so many times when I relied upon imagination and substitution to create those Viennese wonders or French delicacies or solid British fare. Now, I write out this recipe for mango chutney based on my morning experiences for people who might be anywhere. Don't worry if you can't recreate the monkey bit - it's a very forgiving recipe and can be used with most (preferably) unripe or semi-ripe mangoes and whatever spices you might have at hand.

Mango Chutney

An armful of small mangoes freshly hurled off a tree (or about 1 kg. - 3 or 4 large mangoes), washed, left unpeeled and cut into pieces about 2" long and 1/2" thick
1 Tablespoon oil
1/8 teaspoon each of the following whole spices: cumin (jeera), fenugreek (methi), mustard (rai), fennel (saunf), nigella (kalonji)
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar (or to taste)
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

In a large pan or kadhai, heat the oil. When it emits a few wisps of smoke, add the whole spices and let them splutter and darken for a few seconds. Add the mangoes and fry for a minute. Add the water and let it cook uncovered until 2/3rds of the water evaporates (the mangoes should be tender by this time). Add the sugar (the exact amount of sugar and the cooking time depend on the kind of mango you use. Add the sugar in steps, tasting each time). Add the salt to taste. Let it cook for another 5 minutes or until the sugar has dissolved and the consistency is thick and syrupy. Cool and refrigerate (this will last for a week or ten days in the fridge).

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