Sunday, February 24, 2013

A fruit for lovers only...

Whenever we ate at the ginormous seafood palace called Haibawang in Taipei or Tainan, these frozen green mangoes and their delectable slush would be served as dessert. We loved them so much that no matter how much we had enjoyed our dinner and how stuffed we might have been, we'd fall on the bowl of mangoes like starving penguins on a sudden pile of herring.

Some of our friends would eat so many of these mangoes that their lips swelled up, so if you're allergic to things like mangoes and strawberries, go easy on this dish. I fortunately never had this problem and would usually eat until either I came down with brain freeze or the bowl was empty.

Once we had moved back to the States and a visit to Haibawang was no longer a convenient taxi ride across town, it became imperative that the secrets to this luscious dessert be uncovered. And here are my results.

Fresh green Haden mangoes
By the way, yesterday was Lantern Festival, which also happens to be the traditional Chinese Valentine's Day. And, by happy coincidence, this dish means "lover's fruit." I have no idea why...

(Note: this is an updated version with less salt and sugar.)

Icy green mangoes 
Qíngrénguŏ 情人果
Southern Fujian, Taiwan
Makes around 3 cups and serves about 6 to 8 people as a dessert

2 green mangoes (each about 5 or 6 inches in length)
2 tablespoons sea salt
½ cup (or so) rock sugar
1½ cups filtered water
Juice and rind from ½ lemon or 1 tangerine
4 tablespoons agave syrup
Salt the slices
½ teaspoon sea salt, if needed

1. Wash and peel the mangoes. Slice each one in half and remove the pits. Slice the mangoes into thin pieces no more than ⅛ of an inch thick. Place the sliced mangoes in a colander in the sink and sprinkle about two tablespoons salt over the mangoes; toss the mango slices with the salt and let the bitterness leach out of the mangoes for about an hour. (If they are green-fleshed mangoes, repeat up to two more times; see Tips.) Taste a slice of mango to ensure that there's no lingering bitterness. If there is, salt and rinse the mangoes once again. Rinse the mangoes well and toss them in the colander to dry them off a bit.

2. Bring the sugar and water to a boil in a saucepan. Swirl the sugar water in the pan after it boils to completely dissolve the sugar. Remove the pan from the heat and add the agave syrup and both the lemon juice and rind. Taste the sugar water to ensure that it has a nice balance of sweet and lemon flavor; add more agave syrup or sugar, if you would like this sweeter. Taste a piece of mango, and if it is not in the least salty, add some salt to the sugar water.

The hard flesh of an unripe mango
3. When the sugar water has completely cooled down, add the mangoes and toss gently. Pour the mangoes and the sugar water into a heavy duty freezer bag or a plastic container, and then freeze it for a couple of hours. Remove the bag or container, either squish the bag with your hands or mix the mangoes around with a heavy spoon to break up the crystals a bit, and then return the mangoes to the freezer.

4. About a half an hour to an hour before serving (depending upon how hot your kitchen is), remove the mangoes from the freezer and let the mangoes soften up a little. If they're in a freezer bag, you can smack the back as noted above or, if they're in a container, you can use a heavy spoon or fork to break them up. Serve the mangoes and slush in bowls with forks or toothpicks, and be sure to slurp up the slush.

Tips

The recipe is extremely easy if you can get your hands on a couple of green mangoes, which are often found in Chinese, Southeast Asian, and Filipino markets. There are two different stages of ripeness that will give you different colors and flavors. Pick mangoes that are very firm and still have a green skin, are blemish free, and feel nice and heavy.

Use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin, and slice off a piece of one side of each mango before you try to cut it in half, as this will help keep it from rolling and you from cutting yourself. Steady the mango with a heavy fork, if you wish to keep your fingers firmly out of harm's way.

Toss in the rind for extra flavor
If you select one that is actually labeled “green” in the market, the flesh itself will be green and possess a certain bitterness that has to be carefully salted out. Be sure to salt and rinse these green-fleshed mangoes at least three times, and then take a little bite out of a piece to ensure that the bitterness is gone before proceeding to soak them in the sugar syrup.

If you dig a rock-hard mango out of a box of regular mangoes, chances are that the flesh has already started to turn orange, and that's okay too. Lots of the bitterness will be gone at that point and it will have a faint mango flavor, so you probably will only have to salt and rinse the mango slices once; again, do a taste test to be sure.

It's quite all right if you have different shades of mango and a varying degree of ripeness. Just deal with the bitterest (greenest) fruit as your main objective and ignore the riper ones in the mix.

This dessert obviously keeps very well in the freezer if it's kept in an airtight container; a large, heavy duty freezer bag works perfectly here and won't take up too much room in your freezer. If the mangoes are still frozen solid in the syrup when you want to serve them, cover the bag with a towel and then pound on the bag with a rolling pin to smash the ice crystals.

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