It's peak mango season in South Florida, which means more mangos in produce bins, on sidewalks and in your back yard than you know what to do with.
Mangos have been growing in Florida since the late 1800s. They arrived from Cuba and took root in Miami and Tampa, but the mango industry didn't boom until the 20th Century. The mango that first arrived in the Sunshine State isn't the mango South Floridians know and love today.
"It was a little common fibrous thing. It was really the lowest common denominator of mango," said Richard Campbell, director of horticulture and senior curator of tropical fruit at Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden in Coral Gables.
When mangos hit the area, David Fairchild of botanic garden fame gathered up his friends and colleagues to go out and collect genetic material for mangos. The fruits grow around the world and are staples in countries like India, Jamaica, Thailand and elsewhere. Flavor, texture, color and size vary tremendously, and each country has a deeply passionate relationship with its unique mangos and preparations.
Fairchild's crew back then, just like Campbell today, traveled across oceans to find mango varieties to bring home. Those exotics began to cross-pollinate, and people began planting mango seeds. One industrious fan even hopped a U.S. Department of Agriculture fence to steal a branch of a coveted variety.
Every mango season, roughly from May through October, South Floridians benefit from the surplus of intoxicating, wildly varying fruit, especially during the summer.
"You don't see people go crazy for apples, or if they do, it's not the same. You don't see the passion of people for apples like you see for mangos," Campbell said. "We have a connection with the mango that goes way back."
The six most common varieties found in stores are the sweet and creamy Ataulfo, the rich and spicy Francis, the aromatic and rich Haden, the sweet and fruity Keitt, the sweet and rich Kent, and the mild but sweet Tommy Atkins. But mangos taste different for each person, Campbell said. Try different varieties in different recipes to see which one you like best.
Or pick your own. It's tempting to pick a mango. Before picking, make sure that you have permission.
Mangos will typically fall off the tree when ready, and there is no harm in eating a mango from the ground. If the fruit is bruised, cut around the squashed flesh. To pick a mango, choose one that has begun to color -- a picked green mango will likely stay green -- and then let it ripen at room temperature. Mangos should be soft but still very firm when ripe, and will change in color as they ripen.
Here are some suggested recipes:
Coconut rice salad
Coconut sticky rice served with sweet mango is a traditional Thai dish and this salad takes those two classic components and gives it a savory spin. Toasted coconut and chopped macadamia nuts highlight the coconut rice, and the lime plays with Thai flavors for a salad that is refreshing, light and a great showcase for a floral and fruity mango. Serves six.
- One and a half cups jasmine rice.
- One and a quarter cups coconut milk.
- Half a teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste.
- Three tablespoons fresh lime juice.
- Zest from one lime, about half a tablespoon.
- Three tablespoons neutral oil, like vegetable or peanut.
- Half a tablespoon honey.
- Quarter teaspoon chili oil.
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste.
- Third of a cup chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish.
- Quarter of a jalapeno, minced, about one teaspoon.
- Half a cup toasted macadamia nuts, chopped.
- One and a half cups diced mango, about one large mango.
- Half a cup thinly sliced green onions, plus more for garnish.
Rinse rice in cold water in a heavy-bottomed pot until the water stops running cloudy and is clear. Drain the rice and stir in coconut milk and half a teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and then reduce to a simmer. Cover and continue to cook, checking occasionally to make sure rice isn’t burning, for 35 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool at room temperature.
While the rice is cooling, whisk together lime juice, zest, oils, honey and black pepper. Add the rice to a mixing bowl when it's at room temperature and toss with dressing. Add the remaining ingredients and toss to combine. Serve immediately. Keeps covered in the refrigerator for one to two days.
The Mexican Al Pastor pork is typically marinated in pineapple and chiles and slow-cooked stacked on a rotisserie, then served in a taco with grilled pineapple. For a South Florida spin, try marinating the meat in mango puree and spices, then serve grilled with charred mango. A savory mango variety will add depth of flavor and a little sweetness to the tacos for an easy summer meal. Serves four.
- Two cups roughly chopped mango, about two medium mangos.
- Three garlic cloves.
- Quarter cup fresh lime juice.
- Half a tablespoon adobo from chipotle.
- Half a chipotle pepper, seeded.
- Quarter teaspoon ground cumin.
- Quarter cup olive oil.
- Half a teaspoon salt.
- Half a teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.
- One and a quarter pounds boneless pork shoulder, sliced a quarter inch thick.
- Half a mango, thinly sliced.
- Corn tortillas.
- Garnish: Thinly sliced red, yellow or green onion and cilantro leaves.
Add first nine ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. Reserve one cup of mango puree and refrigerate for later. Pour remaining puree over pork shoulder in a gallon plastic bag and move pork pieces around until each is completely covered. Refrigerate overnight or at least eight hours.
Remove remaining mango puree from refrigerator and let come to room temperature. Light grill or heat grill pan over medium-high heat. Grill thinly sliced mango until slightly charred. Reserve for later.
Remove pork pieces from marinade and shake off excess sauce. Grill over medium-high heat two to three minutes a side, until thoroughly cooked. Let rest and lightly heat the tortillas. Assemble tacos with pork, grilled mango, reserved mango puree and garnishes.
India knows its mangos. Mango lassi is a traditional yogurt mango drink flavored with cardamom and served chilled. Take it a step further with mango lassi paletas, which are easy to make, and even better, a frozen option on a hot summer day. Fruity and floral mangos will push this drink over the dessert-edge. For a quick alternative, skip the freezing and blend the lassi with a cup of ice for a blended beverage. Makes 10 to 12.
- Two cups roughly chopped mango, about four medium mangos.
- Four cardamom pods.
- Half a cinnamon stick.
- Half a cup white sugar.
- One and a half teaspoons pure vanilla extract.
- One cup goat yogurt or yogurt of your choice.
- Garnish: Toasted chopped pistachios, shredded coconut.
Blend mango until it is pureed. Add puree to a heavy-bottomed pot with cardamom, cinnamon and sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes, covered. Remove from heat and let cool.
Once the puree is at room temperature, strain out the spices, then blend the mango with vanilla and yogurt. Top Popsicles with desired garnish. Pour into Popsicle molds and freeze overnight, or at least six hours.