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Southwest Style : It Takes One to Mango

July 15, 1993|MARIE SIMMONS

Although I know how to neatly cut up and eat a mango, I usually end up standing over the sink, slurping and dripping. Sometimes I eat a mango Indian-style, the way Gandhi once explained to the writer Louis Fischer, "Turn and squeeze the mango in your hands to soften it and then suck out the pulp through one end." This method is perfect when you are on the road, at the beach or whenever a kitchen sink isn't handy.

But, if mangoes are your passion, as they are mine, sticky fingers and mango juice on your chin are not a deterrent. Once, several years ago, I attended a mango festival in Saharanpur (Uttar Pradesh), India. There--in mango heaven--I tasted dozens of varieties of mangoes. But in a country that has hundreds of gods and more than 30 languages, it is not surprising that there are as many as 1,400 varieties of mango.

The mango is intrinsic to Indian culture. Even the color, warm and roseate as the setting sun, is reflected in the brightly colored saris of young Indian women. Thought to be indigenous to the subcontinent of India, the mango is grown in tropical climates around the world. Unfortunately, when Hurricane Andrew devastated southern Florida in 1992, it wiped out the only commercial crop of mangoes in the United States. But, on a smaller scale, mangoes are now being grown in Southern California, although the season is fall, not summer.

For summer eating we depend on imports from South America and Central America, the Caribbean and Mexico. Alas, Indian mangoes--the best as far as my tasting experience knows--are not exported to the United States.

A peeled and diced mango is delicious added to fruit salad, mixed green salad or salsa. Mango makes a sublime sorbet when it is pureed and strained (if stringy), stirred into a simple syrup and frozen in an ice cream maker.

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A mango is ripe when the flesh is soft to the touch. In some varieties, the tough outer skin turns bright yellow with a red blush. The inside flesh can range from deep orange to yellow gold. The flavor varies with the variety. Some mangoes have an almost citrus-like flavor. My favorite mango has a bright yellow skin and a deep orange, intensely flavored sweet flesh.

MANGO SALSA 1 to 2 large ripe mangoes 2 tablespoons minced sweet red pepper 2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onion tops 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro or basil 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice 1 teaspoon minced fresh chile Dash salt

Before peeling, cut mango lengthwise along either side of long, flat central pit. Cut each half in half lengthwise and then peel off skin.

Dice mango flesh into 1/4-inch pieces. Using sharp knife, cut flesh from pit.

Combine mango, sweet red pepper, green onion, cilantro, lime juice to taste, chile to taste and salt in small bowl. Stir to mix. Add more lime juice to taste. Serve salsa over grilled salmon or other fish or as relish with chicken. Makes 4 servings.

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Mango is delicious in this pudding, but if it is unavailable you can happily use sweet ripe peaches or nectarines. Garnish the pudding with finely chopped, toasted pistachios or sliced unblanched (natural) almonds. The optional addition of toasted coconut adds crunch, sweetness and that addictive coconut flavor.

CREAMY RICE PUDDING WITH MANGO 2 1/2 cups water 1 cup long grain white rice 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt 1/2 cup whipping cream 1/3 cup sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla 1/8 teaspoon almond extract 1/2 cup flaked coconut, optional 1/4 cup peeled and finely chopped pistachios or sliced unblanched almonds, optional 2 cups peeled, pitted and diced ripe mango or peaches or nectarines Yogurt thinned with small amount of milk, optional

Combine water, rice and salt in medium saucepan. Heat to boiling over high heat. Stir once. Reduce heat to low. Cover and cook rice until very soft and tender, but still moist, about 25 minutes. Remove from cooktop. Let stand, covered, about 5 minutes.

While rice is cooking, whisk yogurt, cream, sugar to taste, vanilla and almond extract in bowl. Let stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar.

Spread coconut at 1 end of baking sheet and pistachios at other. Bake at 350 degrees until lightly toasted, about 5 minutes. Cool.

Add hot rice to room-temperature yogurt mixture. Fold in mango. Serve warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with toasted coconut and/or pistachios. Add additional yogurt thinned with little milk if mixture gets too stiff upon standing. Makes 6 servings.

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