Warming up to and with mangoes; through booze
My love for mangoes started off rocky. As a young girl venturing into Central America with my family in the late 1980’s, down the Pan American highway through Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and into Nicaragua, I had some run ins with mangoes. Few of those entanglements left me with a hankering for more. The soapy, ultra-sweet flavor wasn’t my thing and I gave up on them easily, without looking back. Thirty years later, I found myself importing and marketing these sweet perfumed beauties for organic farmers throughout Latin American and I decided to take another look. I don’t think it’s uncommon with some foods (can you say brussel sprouts) that a second try as an adult changes everything, especially when you toss in the “tried and true” recipe for reshaping taste- nostalgia, timing, connection and engagement. My coming of age with mangoes was born from my connection to mango farmers and the the sustainable food scene in Brooklyn and it advanced by a warehouse full of fresh organic mangoes and a local artisanal, farm to glass booze craze. As a cooking instructor who focuses a great deal of time on kids, I am aware that the perfect storm of ingredients can create an openness of the palette that allows kids to try things they would normally never try not to mention actually like what they are tasting. This is the story (told through booze) of my perfect storm that brought me to where I am today, a devoted mango lover and self proclaimed – Queen of the King of Fruits
Timing wise, I was in the process of conjoining my two careers or passions; small organic grower development with culinary education, cooking instruction and recipe development. On the one hand I was selling organic fairtrade mangoes throughout North America and on the other I was deeply submersed in the culinary food craze of Brooklyn, teaching my community about food, agriculture and ingredients, based on my personal philosophy as well as Brooklyn’s buzz words of that time -local, organic, fairtrade and sustainable. Both our warehouse in New Jersey and our office in Brooklyn, were filled with fresh mangoes at -almost- all times. When I look back, it was the aroma of the fresh mangoes that laid the path towards my turnaround. Heavenly perfumed scents lofting thought our warehouse, our Brooklyn office and culinary center and directly into my brain stroking my nostalgia receptors. I could not escape the scent of a mango.
I had the subconscious desire to re-evaluate my taste for mangoes. I couldn’t help myself from fondly associating them, especially the sweet and tropical perfumed scents, with my days as a child in Central America. Suddenly my memories were of similar perfumed smells meandering through the open air food market in Managua or of the sticky perfumed juices gummed into my hands when I gathered up Rosie and Blackjack. (Our two parrots who we set out in mango tress daily whilst living on an old coffee plantation overlooking Lake Nicaragua.) The sight of mangoes made me chuckle, thinking of my neighbor kids roaming our 40 hectare mango orchard, hunting for the plumpest-ripest mangoes. Nostalgia began to awaken and open my palette and forge out an invitation for mangoes to lay upon it. The good times of my childhood made me salivate for mangoes. Mangoes made me feel warm and full of affection.
Through my company at the time Ger-Nis International, it was my job to sell and promote mangoes for small organic farmers. I was spending a lot of time in organic mango orchards and with mango farmers in Peru, Mexico and Ecuador. I began to connect mangoes from my childhood to mangoes in my adult life. Through my work I grew more passionate about mangoes and mango farmers. That passion was creating a deep and authentic connection and driving my success.
But I knew authentic connection on its own wasn’t enough. My passion to connect food and farmers was powerful and I could feel myself, subconsciously seeking a path toward a connection to the flavor and taste of mangoes in addition to the warm nostalgia I felt for mangoes and mango farmers.
Booze and the farm to table cocktail scene that was exploding in Brooklyn at the time, was the final ingredient that I needed to complete my mango pilgrimage. Fresh fruits, spices and even vegetables were just beginning to be a thought in replacing simple syrups and other flavoring components in cocktails. At Ger-Nis Culinary and Herb Center we began to develop, promote and imbibe in these farm to glass, cocktails, experimenting with everything we could get our hands on, including mangoes. It was an incredibly exciting time for us, as well as our patrons, who were literally imbibing local, organic, fairtrade and sustainable food education in all of our classes and events. Through challenging myself to discover the value of mangoes for my own palette came the revelation of mangoes as a cocktail or drink ingredient. Mangoes became my cocktail muse and their versatility became one of my deepest, most authentic passions. The parallelity in the versatility of a mango as an ingredient and a mango farmer was a profound realization for me.
I loathed (still do) all the artificial sweet drinks out there and felt that the sugar syrups or the plain simple syrup bartenders were using to sweeten and flavor drinks was outdated and not the least bit clever, not to mention missing the opportunity to bring local, organic, fairtrade and sustainable ingredients to the forefront of the cocktail scene and even dare I say make “ healthy” cocktails.
Fresh ripe mangoes are super sweet naturally, it’s one of the reasons I still don’t love to just gulp down a totally ripe mango. My sweet tooth just isn’t that big. But mangoes do have a lovely balance of tart, accented by other perfumed tropical flavors (depending on variety) that balance the sweetness incredibly. Their puree, straight flesh, syrup or shrub, makes the perfect sweetener/flavor ingredient in a variety of cocktails.
The color is no doubt a focal point as a cocktail ingredient casting in bright and muted shades of orange and yellows depending on how you use it. It certainly can present a tropical flavor but if you think outside the tropical box a bit, it’s possible to accent the sweet or perfumy, without necessarily highlighting the tropical. It’s easy to simply provoke your cocktail to give off only scant essence of tropical. The natural sweetness eliminates the need for too much extra sweetener, depending on the time of the year and variety of the mango. They have incredible depth of flavor, depending on stage of ripeness and can morph into a gamut of textures which have become really important in cocktails. They can be used to enhance every type of flavor whether it be bitter, sweet, sour, savory or even unami.
Mangoes are intoxicating, in drink form or in life. I am intoxicated with everything about them, including the people who grow them. My recipe for learning to love mangoes is indeed an old one, it’s simple ingredients- nostalgia, timing, connection and engagement almost always entice even the biggest hater to love. If you are new to mangoes and on the fence about them, cocktails and mocktails are a great gateway into an incredibly sweet world. It doesn’t matter if it’s not summer, mangoes can shift their flavor into warming, comforting drinks just as easily as they can set the stage for a tropical-summery piña colada.
Here is my recipe de jour, inspired by Oaxacan mangoes and the food and drink of Oaxaca- lots of spice and even more mezcal! I also threw in a few my essential mango cocktails and mixer recipes designed to turn a mango hater into a mango lover through the avenue of booze!
Oaxacan Smoking Mango
My perfect mango drink is definitely not sweet. It’s warm, perfumy and little smoky and filled with spice . It’s bright and it’s bold – fuerte. My perfect mango drink is inspired by the people and culture of Oaxaca, who are all those things and more. The charred mango in this cocktail captures a slightly different, more robust sweetness, deepening the flavor profile of the mango and the taste of the sugar. It’s smoky sweet vs just plain sugar sweet. It’s barely tropical and has lots of subtle spice tones. The perfumy essence of mangoes melds well with the vanilla and the powerful smoky mescal is richly warming. This drink is strong but at the same time delicate, which is how I describe both a mango’s flavor and Mexico. This is cocktail is a celebration of both.
Makes 1 drink
1 ounce Del Vida Organic Mezcal
1 ounce Dulce Vida Organic Reposado Tequila
1 ounce Charred Mango Vanilla Shrub
½ ounce Red Chili Honey Syrup
½ ounce Lime Juice
Red Chili GarnishOptional bitters – if you have them
2 drops Brooklyn Hemispherical Charred Pineapple Bitters
2 drops of Biter Truth Peach Bitters
Combine mescal, tequila, shrub, honey syrup and lime juice in a cocktail shaker. Fill about half way with ice and shake vigorously for about 25 seconds or until the outside of the shaker gets cold and frosty. Strain into a chilled coupe style or low ball glass and garnish with a slice of red chili and a few drops of bitters.
Charred Mango Vanilla Shrub
Makes 12 ounces of shrub
1 large ripe mango, cut in slices, reserve the mango pit as well
2 slices red chili pepper, seeds included (optional for a little extra kick)
1 lemon or lime sliced
1 vanilla bean, quartered and spilt open
2 tablespoons coconut sugar plus ¾ cup more
pinch of salt
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/2 teaspoon smoked salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Juice of 2 limes (lemons ok)
Zest of on lime ( lemons ok)
¾ cup champagne vinegar
Pre heat your oven to broil at about 425°. Place the mangos, chilies, lemon or lime and vanilla bean on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and sprinkle with the with 2 tablespoons of the coconut sugar, pinch of salt, cracked black pepper, smoked salt and cinnamon. Bake until charred about 10-12 minutes.
In a quart size mason jar combine the charred mango (mango pit as well) vanilla bean, lemons and limes and chili peppers, making sure to split the bean open and scrape the insides out. Add the lime juice and zest to the mason jar. Shake vigorously, cover and place in the fridge. Allow to macerate for a few days, shaking vigorously every couple of hours or when you remember. Re move the mango pit and strain the maceration, using a fine-mesh strainer or cheesecloth, making sure to extract all the juice from the charred mango by pushing down on it. Discard the solids and add the champagne vinegar. Chill.
Red Chili Honey Syrup
Makes 8 ounces
½ cup honey
½ cup water
1 large fresh red chili, deseeded and chopped fine
Warm the honey, water and chili in a small saucepan, stirring often over low heat for about 10 minutes. Turn off and let cool completely and allow to infuse another 10 minutes. Strain and chill