Hot and sweet
Maybe you know the feeling? I hope so. For me, the problem is not so much the heat, although that’s certainly part of it. Here in Seattle, it only occasionally gets too hot for the stove, but when it does, it’s memorable. Last week, I was working on developing a recipe for pâté de campagne, and I can now say with a good deal of authority that pork fat is not at all pleasant to work with when the ambient temperature of your house is approximately 80 degrees. Also, though sweat is not a traditional ingredient in country pâté, mine contained a decent amount of it. It’s a good thing I went easy on the salt.
But heat aside, the main reason for my near-complete lack of desire to cook is that summer doesn’t want me to. Its best foods - all the fruits and vegetables at the market right now - want little in the way of preparation. They want to be left alone, allowed to do what they do. Today, for lunch, I ate tomatoes and mozzarella and olive oil, and for dessert, I had some raspberries. In just a minute, I might have some cold peanut butter on a spoon. For dinner, we’re going to make a salad, and I’m not sure what else. This is a little bit troubling, especially when I’m supposed to show up here with a recipe for you.
Luckily, our friends Matthew, Laurie, and Iris invited us to dinner on Saturday night, and Matthew, by some miracle, actually cooks in the summertime. He is a very good friend to have. He also, incidentally, writes an excellent blog and is a contributor to Gourmet.com. If you haven’t read him yet, do. For our dinner, he made a Thai green mango salad, gai lan in a brothy peanut-coconut sauce, mackerel with ginger and other aromatics that I ate too fast to identify, and rice. (For my part, I brought along some pâté, albeit not the one that I sweat into. Only the best for my friends!) Everything was delicious - this bite spicy, the next bite rich, the third one a little tangy - but I was especially smitten with the mango salad. It was cool and sour, hot and sweet, and utterly refreshing. Brandon declared that he wanted to eat it every day until the end of summer. So, before we left, I asked Matthew if he would share his recipe, and he generously agreed.
Aside from julienning the green, unripe mango, which can be a bit tricky at first, this salad is as easy as it gets. If you’re accustomed to doing any sort of Thai or Vietnamese cooking, you might even have some of the ingredients already on hand. Basically, you just toss julienned mango with scallions, bird’s eye chilis, and macadamia nuts. (This last ingredient is an unconventional tweak that Matthew invented - peanuts, I think, are the norm - but it’s absolutely delicious.) Then you make a traditional dressing of fish sauce and lime juice in equal parts, sweeten it with a modicum of sugar, and toss it into the mango mixture. It’s a bit monochromatic, as you can see in the photograph above, but it makes up for its lack of color with loads of flavor, which, the way I see it, is a perfectly fair trade. (Anyway, if you want to gussy it up, just serve it with a few shrimp curled on top; that’s very pretty.) We made it last night, and seeing as Brandon just came home from running errands with another green mango, we’re apparently making it again tomorrow. I cannot complain.
P.S. A number of you have written to inquire about the absence of my column from the August issue of Bon Appétit. I apologize for the scare! For a number of reasons, the August issue just had to be a bit shorter, that’s all. I’ll be back in the next one.
Green Mango Salad with Macadamia Nuts
Adapted from Matthew Amster-Burton
You can often find green, unripe mangoes at Asian grocery stores. Here in Seattle, we bought ours at Uwajimaya. Choose specimens whose skin has no (or few) wrinkles, and that feel hard as rocks. When you peel them, their flesh should be pale yellow - if it’s orange, Matthew warned me, they’re too ripe - and when you taste a piece, it should be firm and crunchy.
This salad scales up easily, if you want to serve more people. You could also try playing with other additional flavorings, such as Thai basil, cilantro, or dried shrimp. Every recipe for this salad seems to differ a bit, so I imagine it would be hard to go wrong.
For the salad:
2 green mangoes
2 scallions, white parts only, sliced very thinly
1 bird’s eye (also called Thai) chili, some seeds removed, sliced very thinly
1 small handful of macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped
Sautéed shrimp, optional
For the dressing:
2 Tbsp. Thai fish sauce
2 Tbsp. lime juice
1 Tbsp. sugar
Using a vegetable peeler, peel the green mangoes. At this point, you have a couple of options for how to cut them into thin strips. You can use use a mandoline fitted with the julienne attachment, for one, or you can do the following, which, once you get the hang of it, is pretty easy:
Set one peeled mango on a cutting board, oriented so that its pit runs horizontally like an equator and the stem end is closest to you. Using a sharp knife and steadying the mango carefully with one hand, make a cut down the center, running the length of the fruit. Let the knife glide all the way down to the pit. Next, make a series of similar cuts to the right of and parallel to this first one, each about 1/8th of an inch apart. (These instructions are for right-handed people; lefties will be more comfortable moving to the left.) As you get out toward the edge, where there is no pit, let the knife cut all the way through, and then set aside that piece of flesh; you will julienne it by hand in a minute. Then spin the mango around and make a series of cuts on the other side of the first one. When you’re finished, the mango should look a bit like you ran a comb very sternly down its length. Pick it up in one hand, and, with the other hand, use a vegetable peeler to shave it into strips. This works best if you start the peeler at the far end and, holding the fruit steady with the thumb of the peeling hand, pull the peeler toward you. Repeat until you reach the pit. Then flip the fruit over, make more slits on the other side, and peel again. Discard the pit, and repeat with the second mango. Then julienne the remaining pieces of flesh by hand.
Toss the mango with the scallions, chili, and macadamia nuts.
In a small bowl, whisk together the fish sauce, lime juice, and sugar. Toss with the mango mixture to taste.
If you’re not eating immediately, chill the salad for up to an hour or so, until you do. Top with sautéed shrimp, if you like.
Yield: About two servings, or enough to feed four as a small starter