Mango and Mint
Arabian, Indian, and North African Inspired Cuisine
(PM Press)One fatal day about fifteen years ago, I fell in with a Mexican mango orchard. Or rather it was offered to me at what I thought to be a ridiculously low price. An acre or two in the sticks, filled with "mangeras," great stately trees with the typical long and stylish leaves. We guessed most of the trees to be at least twenty years old.
The soil was a black clay which turns deliciously slimy during the first summer rains. There was a brick shack, a deep well with an endless supply of water. There were a sprinkling of limas, those trees that turn out the tiny green fruit as if in an endless production line, and the typical "palma real," a high-class cousin of the coconut tree whose fronds are used for thatching (roofs, hats, baskets).
I figured that with all this tropical largess I could scarcely starve; rather, would spend my Golden Years awash in mango chutney and margaritas. At worse, I could sell the mangos in the public market, me in disguise with serape and sombrero.
But there are a few things they don't tell you about mango trees at bargain prices. There are, for instance, several different types --- some highly prized, others ... well ... not so hot. Mine were, on the whole, of the lower class. During mango season, mid-Spring, those trees don't stop turning it out. The fruit turns from green to puce, its odd, over-sized kidney-shape ... ripening, falling to the ground, lying there, rotting, attracting the neighbor chickens and what we now call "killer bees." Thousands of them.
What I didn't know then, what I do know now, is that killer bees have a killer love not only for fallen mangoes but the orange-scented toilet water I like. My first morning in my orchard found me getting out of the car and after a few second getting rapidly back in. The bees carry a perfect sense of smell and they wanted to cuddle and they found me and "Flor de Naranja" nigh about irresistible. I went home, got in the shower, becoming less orange-juice and more musky. Only then was it safe for me to go back again for my rice, bean, and tortilla lunch.
Nicky Garratt seems to have no such problems with mangoes. Nor mint, sesame, dal, ginger, masala, turmeric, cashews and the delicious and spicy foods of India, Turkey, and North Africa. There are almost two hundred recipes here, including the more familiar hummus, curry, lima beans, eggplant, pilafs, and a selection of pickles, chutneys, and soups. Being protective of the resources of the planet, he gives over a whole section of eighteen recycled dishes, including squash and pumpkin seeds roasted with paprika and garam masala, and a north Indian dish of stinging nettles (he advises you to spray with water and removing the bugs "before bringing them into the kitchen.")
Garratt is a militant vegetarian. In the 1980s, he was member of a British band called "UK Subs" and was invited by the Polish regime of the day to open "Poland to subversive Western music." He tells us that explaining the ins-and-outs of Western vegetarianism to Poland of thirty years ago was difficult. "Meat was essential to display value, and without it you were generally left with a potato." One of the other band members shared his similar distaste for beef and sausage, and they would trade their dollars and pounds for veggie edibles, the two of them travelling "like premature bag ladies surrounded by plastic containers and shopping bags."
He claims that he is a vegetarian because of Pinky. Pinky was his first guinea pig and soon enough young Garratt was owner of forty "cavies." He raised them, showed them ... ultimately become judge at agricultural events. A guinea pig specialist! Pinky and the family mountain dog made it so that "I alone saw the dichotomy between the elevated life of these pets and the lamb or pig on the plate."
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Sometimes, when I look out over our field of rotting mangoes, I figure I am looking at a Net Rot Worth of between $200 and $300, since they go for $1 per head at the local supermarket here to the north. Because of my prejudice against them, I decided to let the author guide me through a mango dish, page 167, Sweet Mango Chutney. It uses ginger, garlic, white wine vinegar, cayenne, ground clove and brown sugar. Five "barely ripe mangos, peeled" too. What the hell, I figure, we have hundreds. Why stop at five? I'll let you know the upshot.
Garratt is enough of a democrat (or an anarchist) to include a brief chapter on Marmite. For those of you who have never chanced upon this delicacy, you are in for a treat. Wikipedia reports that it is "a sticky, dark brown food paste with a distinctive, powerful flavour, which is extremely salty." They don't mention that it looks like poo, too. The author compares it to those stinky durians of Malaysia. More like old tennis shoe. It is what's left over after making beer. A hundred years ago they found out the used brewer's yeast "could be concentrated, bottled and eaten." As with the durian, and the peyote plant, we wonder who was the brave soldier who ate the first spoonful.
During WWII, when meat was impossible to get in Great Britain, Marmite was the best protein substitute available. Spread thin on bread, it became --- if not tasty --- at least beloved. A whole generation of survivors of the war (and the food) took up the cudgels for it, where it remains safely to this day.
Speaking of the uglies, the editors of Mango & Mint have chosen to include twenty-two color shots of such dishes as Bitter Melon and Lemon, Coconut Halva, and Cauliflower Potato, and Menthi Curry. If there is another edition --- and I hope there is --- let's leave these off. These hearty foods taste far better than they look, I assure you.--- Becky Holliday