Memories and a mango salad

Food is a powerful thing, and a certain dish can spark memories from years ago. This mango salad recipe from Vietnam works great as an appetizer or light side.

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    You want an under-ripe mango for this salad, so the slices are firm and slightly tart.
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When my husband was deployed for one year last year, he was entitled to a two-week R&R (rest and relaxation) trip which meant the military would fly him anywhere in the world. Many choose to go home but we decided to entrust Isaac to the grandparents and rendezvous in Vietnam.

My trip from Seattle took about 17 hours. His, two days. But that’s beside the point.

Because this is meant to be a brief post – we are moving yet again, but at least it’s only across town this time! So I’ll get to the point. One of my favorite experiences on that trip was a cooking class at the Morning Glory Cooking School in the picturesque town of Hoi An along the central Vietnam coast. I wrote about it here.

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And this gorgeous mango salad is testimony to it. Every time, I make it –  and it’s quite often – I think of the blissful (and childless) two weeks my husband and I spent in Vietnam, lovers without a care in the world, taking comfort in each other, and in the moment that was now.

Hoi An mango salad
Time: 20 minutes
Makes: 4 to 6 appetizer servings 

The key to this vibrant salad is selecting a mango in the right stage of under-ripeness – you want mango slices that are slightly tart and still have some crunch (I don’t like them too sour though). Don’t focus on color as it’s not the best indicator of ripeness. Squeeze the mango gently and it should give ever so slightly but not too much. If it’s too squishy, the mango will be too sweet and mushy, and is better eaten out of hand. The breed of mango doesn’t matter as much –  Ataulfo, Tommy Atkins, Kent, any of these will do.

1 medium (about 13 ounces) underripe mango

1 teaspoon chili paste

1 small clove garlic

2 teaspoons sugar (palm or white are fine)

2 teaspoons roasted sesame seeds

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon lime juice (1 Key Lime)

1 teaspoon fish sauce

1 small onion, sliced and soaked in water to remove its bite (about 1 cup)

1-1/2 cups Vietnamese mint (rau ram or laksa leaf) and mint leaves for garnish

2 tablespoons fried shallots

1. Peel the mango with a vegetable peeler or sharp paring knife. Hold the mango firmly down on the chopping board (or in one hand if you are comfortable) and use a paring knife to make vertical incisions down the mango from stem-end to tip, about half-an-inch apart. Do this on both sides of the seed.

2. With the vegetable peeler, “peel” strips of mango away from you.

3. In a mortar and pestle, grind the chili paste and garlic together. Place the chili-garlic paste in a large bowl and add the sugar, 1 teaspoon roasted sesame seeds, vegetable oil, lime juice, and fish sauce. Mix well.

4. Add the shredded mango, onion, half the mint leaves and toss until the ingredients are well coated with dressing.

5. Turn onto a serving tray and garnish with remaining mint leaves, sesame seeds and fried shallots.

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