My mango mania

I met my first mango in Taiwan in 1980 and it was love at first bite.  Like so much for me in Asia then, a mango was terribly exotic and new. I was floored by its fresh, juicy, tropical taste and loved eating it “inside out”,  those luscious orange cubes popping out from a leathery,  inverted skin.thai20ice

Mango orchards covered much of Taiwan and small mountains of these fruits used to fill the markets during mango season. On a student budget, this was something I could afford to binge on, but my Chinese Auntie was appalled by my ravenous appetite.

“Too much yang,” she’d scold, wagging a finger. “This fruit is too yang. It’s  too hot!  It’s going to make you sick.”

It didn’t.

I know that Chinese notions of dietary, yin-yang balance are centuries old and very wise but when mango season comes to town, I open wide and gobble up.

IMG_1704Every spring in Toronto these yellow, kidney-shaped mangoes called Ataulfo and Alphonso start to appear and I can’t wait to peel off their skin and slice into their rich golden, fibreless skin. Deeply sweet and intoxicating, it’s no wonder Persians named it samarbehist or fruit from heaven.

I’m happy to eat it straight for breakfast, or slice it up and toss it into a fruit or green leafy salad. It goes into my Thai mango salad and stars in a salsa (recipe below). Sometimes I’ll cook up some coconut sticky rice and serve that adorned with thin slices of mango. Nothing beats it pureed into a mango lassi or strawberry smoothie.

Besides rocking in the taste department, mango is a nutritional powerhouse, ranked right up there in the top ten list of good-for-you fruits. It’s an excellent source of vitamin A, high in C and a source of fibre, vitamins E and B6. Moreover, it’s bursting with carotenoids (plant pigments) such as beta carotene and zeaxanthin, which protect against cancer, enhance immunity and help to prevent age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness.

Before Ataulfo and Alphonso entered the market, most consumers were familiar with Haden, Kent or Tommy Atkins mango. These are oblong or roundish, about the size of an adult hand, covered in green skin splashed with red and sometimes yellow patches. They usually weigh about twice that of the smaller yellow ones.

IMG_1711It’s good to know that colouring does not indicate ripeness in a mango. How it feels, does. A ripe mango should yield to slight pressure and have the feel of good leather. Sniff around the stem end. A ripe mango will emit an intense, flowery smell.

Two new varieties of mango have become available, the big green Keitt from the USA and the Pango Mango from Puerto Rico. Both are large meaty mangoes. The Keitt stays green, even when ripe.   And the newly developed green Pango Mango with its reddish blush has no fibre at all.


Serves 4


This salsa offers up a quartet of flavours: sweet, sour, salty and hot. It’s a cinch to make and, like most salsas, the flavours intensify if you let it sit in the fridge for a few hours before serving. Mango salsa is the perfect counterpoint to grilled poultry or fish, Tex-Mex dishes or even curry served on rice. Be sure to use fully ripe mangoes.

2 ripe mangoes, peeled and diced into 1/4-1/2-inch cubes

1/2 cup            chopped red onion

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/4 cup            chopped fresh coriander

Juice of 1 +1/2 limes

2 roasted sweet peppers   * optional

1 large dried hot pepper, dry-roasted


In a non-metallic mixing bowl, add the mangoes, red onion, garlic, fresh coriander and lime juice. Dice roasted red peppers if using and add to mixture. Chop dried chili pepper and add to salsa mixture. Salt to taste. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving for best results.

 Dry-roasting your dried chili peppers helps brings out richer flavours.   Plus, it’s simple to do. Either roast it in a dry frying pan at medium heat for a few minutes or until it turns dark brown, or roast it in your toaster oven. It’s easy to burn a dried red chili pepper, so watch it carefully.

Taxi Cuisine

My friend David takes a lot of Toronto taxis.


In the course of a couple of kilometres, he unearths huge chunks of personal history from the guy-behind-the-wheel, lapping up and identifying their accents, then hitting on pure gold – from a food writer’s perspective. When the average driver thinks “back home” food appears like a sparkling mirage on the horizon.

And I depend on David for a complete recounting.

He retells their food fables to me and I’m transfixed by lush mango groves and tales of chins dripping with sweet juice. I follow their food steps into crowded, open-air markets thick with long-robed shoppers eyeing over endless mounds of pistachios, dates, saffron and coriander seed.

But it’s the detailed recipes David recites the minute he gets out of a cab that absolutely enthrall. Like that Bombay fish recipe calling for two mysterious spices that we could rub into a nameless finned species… that oh, we would learn the name of if we went to a certain fish monger on Parliament Street. There, David would drop his cabbie friend’s name like a password and all the rest of the dish would unfold – like magic.

It all sounded delectable but way too unreachable for my inner impatient cook. So I got in a cab of my own and started asking around for Indian restaurant recommendations.

“My wife,” chuckled the driver, who then proceeded to give me a blow-by-blow description of the Chapli kebab they had plans to make together that evening, right after his shift. While he distinctly called for ground beef and suggested I shape this kebab into a patty, I had (as usual) a different vision.

IMG_7272I raced off to  Mister Greek Meat Market (801 Danforth Ave; 416-469-0733) where freshly ground lamb is usually on hand, or can be made to order.

Sadly, Mister Greek doesn’t stock sumac, which is one part of this recipe I wasn’t going to fudge. President’s Choice has recently introduced Black Label sumac ($4.99 a bottle in the spice section), but I am leery of its tagline “tangy and fruity with a touch of saltiness”. I don’t want salt in my sumac, I just want those ground up little berries prized for their tangy, yet non-acidic lemony flavour. Look for it in Indian and Middle Eastern grocery stores and toss it over grilled meat, poultry and fish, or dips like humus or white bean.

Shaping these kebabs is a little tricky. You can listen to my driver and skip the skewer and opt for a patty, but I like to roll the meat around a skewer for a pogo stick kind-of-look. I love tandoor-style keema kebabs rolled this way and just had to do it for this chapli kebab. Use metal or bamboo skewers, but remember to soak the bamboo ones in water first for 30 minutes if you don’t want them to catch on fire under the hot broiler as mine did.

Kebabs TP

Chapli Kebab

1 lb ground lamb or beef

1 finely diced medium tomato

1 finely diced medium onion

1 egg, beaten

1 tbsp ground coriander

1 tsp salt

1 tsp hot pepper flakes

1 tsp crushed garlic

Butter, melted

½ cucumber, diced

1 tomato, diced

Naan or pita bread


In a large bowl, combine ground meat, tomato, onion, egg, coriander, salt, hot pepper flakes and garlic. Marinate for at least 2 hours or overnight. Soak bamboo skewers 30 min., if using.

Shape kebabs on skewers or as patties.

Baste skewered kebabs with melted butter and cook on a hot grill or under broiler for 2-3 minutes on each side or until no longer pink. Alternately, heat butter in a hot frying pan and cook patties 2-3 minutes per side or until fully cooked.

Serve on naan or pita bread with chopped cucumbers and tomatoes and a dollop of yogurt sauce. Garnish with a sprinkle of sumac.

Serves four.

Yogurt Sauce:   Drain one cup of plain yogurt in a cheesecloth-lined sieve over a bowl for one hour. In a medium bowl, combine drained yogurt, one diced jalapeno pepper, two tablespoons each of chopped mint and fresh coriander, a splash of lemon juice and salt to taste.




Tonight a workhorse died in my kitchen.  She served me more than 20 years and has spent the past seven housed in my appliance garage, patiently awaiting the task of her trade: Food processing. Each time I hauled her out, I smiled at the Sunbeam logo on her white plastic frame and sighed with relief that she worked so simply. Continue reading “R.I.P.”

Roti rendezvous

My husband specializes in lunch. From Ossington to Greenwood, Eglinton to the Lakeshore, Don knows where to find the tastiest midday morsels this city has to offer.  It could be pizza, tiropita, falafel or sushi. Today it is a butter chicken roti and a vegetable samosa at Gandhi Indian Cuisine (554 Queen St. W; 416-504-8155).

Despite his head-shaking declaration: “Not a pretty place, Mado!” I’m eager to see Gandhi’s dark, dingy hole-in-the-wallness for myself. Continue reading “Roti rendezvous”