Summer heat has arrived in New Delhi. Starting in April, the sun seemed to shine more fiercely than the day before until, in a few weeks, all of spring’s cool breezes had been forced out of the city, replaced by a uniform, stifling heat.
Thank heaven for mangoes. Other nations claim to have the world’s best mangoes, but while I recognize that taste is relative, I unashamedly assert my provincial right to state that Indian mangoes are the world’s best. And perhaps that’s because the best and only time to enjoy them is during the summer.
I grew up in New York. When I was there, I thought of mangoes as messy, time-consuming, and not worth the effort. But soon after moving here last year, I had a mango epiphany. One day after lunch I unenthusiastically helped myself to a piece of mango: My taste buds exploded. It was impossibly sweet, but that wasn’t all. The flavor was deep and layered. You could dive into it. It was completely different from the mangoes I’d had before.
The first few weeks of living in a new city are never easy, and on top of that, New Delhi is not an easy city. I was lonely, uncomfortable, overwhelmed. But those feelings began to ease when I wandered down my street for another mango experience: this time courtesy of a juice vendor, sitting high up behind a mound of fruits. I ordered a mango shake – a tall glass of milk, ice, and mango. It was a triumph worth repeating more than once a day, a necessary relief for the heat. I indulged myself all summer.
But when the summer heat ended, so did the mangoes.
Produce grown out of season to meet demand or to survive long journeys to market tends to taste bland. But even if that weren’t true, would mangoes taste as delicious if they weren’t associated with relief from a hot Indian summer? And if mangoes didn’t disappear with the heat, we’d lose the delicious anticipation of their return.
For now, the sun will only shine more fiercely here for months to come. But with the heat come mangoes, and the former is made bearable by the latter.
2 medium (alphonso) mangoes (see note)
2 cups of milk (almond, cashew, or cow’s)
2 teaspoons of sugar, or to taste
4 ice cubes
Pinch of saffron (optional)
Fresh mint or chopped nuts (for garnish)
Wash and peel mangoes. Chop pulp into small pieces. (Tip: There is a spectacularly clever way to cube a mango that requires some skill but isn’t too messy. Search for “how to prepare a mango” online.) Put pieces in blender with milk, sugar, ice cubes, and saffron (if desired). Blend until smooth. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint, chopped nuts, or, if you’re feeling lavish, strands of saffron. You can substitute a cup of plain yogurt for a cup of the milk. Then it’s a “lassi,” or smoothie. (Note: Unripe mangoes taste like gasoline to some. Keep mangoes in a paper bag until they yield to light finger pressure, the skin is faintly wrinkled, and they smell ripe. Or use frozen mango.)