Mangoes are more than just a delicious sign of summer.
“A mango tree inspires a sense of community,” says chef Allen Susser, who wrote The Great Mango Book (Ten Speed, 2001). “No one family can use all the fruit a tree produces so they have to share.”
And when you get a bit of the bounty, there’s no better way to enjoy it than hanging over the sink with juice dripping down your arms.
Chances are, though, that by this time of the season, you’ve eaten plenty of the mangoes au natural and are looking for different ways to prepare them.
So lucky for us, chefs Kareem Anguin, of The Oceanaire Seafood Room in Miami, and Susser, of Chef Susser’s Consulting in Hollywood, are happy to share their passion for mangoes and their recipes. They also will be at the 20th anniversary International Mango Festival at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden this weekend.
Susser has had a long-time love affair with this tropical fruit. A Brooklyn kid, he had never tasted a mango before coming to school at Florida International University in the 1970s. He had no idea they could grow on backyard trees.
“My first summer here, all of South Miami came alive with mangoes,” says Susser, who runs Chef Susser’s Café in Coral Gables as well as the Burger Bar by Chef Susser and Chef Susser’s To Go, both in the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
He picked fruit from branches of mango trees that hung over the sidewalk. “It was love at first bite,” he says.
He didn’t realize there were so many varieties of mangoes until he opened Chef Allen’s restaurant, where he started cooking with tropical produce in the 1980s.
“That was a real awakening,” says Susser, who closed his eponymous Aventura restaurant last year.
He discovered that mangoes come from as far away as Africa, Southeast Asia, China, Pakistan, the Mediterranean and India as well as Latin America.
As a result, he began adding not only mangoes to his menus but also the exotic flavors of their homelands. “It just made sense to me,” he says.
These flavors are front and center in the recipe for mango cake that he shares with us.
He purees as well as cubes the fruit to bake into a loaf redolent with cinnamon, fresh ginger and lime juice. Then he tops the cake with cheery yellow cream cheese icing flavored and colored by aromatic Madras curry powder.
It may sound like a strange combination in a dessert, but Susser knows it works. “The mango and curry is a fun twist on paired flavors. I like to do things that are ‘cheffy’ and that push the envelope,” he says.
As mangoes helped shape his menus over the years, he learned that they also shape people’s memories.
“So many people, including many in South Florida, have grown up with mangoes that the fruit has become a part of their cultures and their lives,” he says.”
Oceanaire chef Anguin is an example. Mangoes are a big part of his summertime memories from growing up in Jamaica. His family lived on a farm that was on a couple of acres in St. Elizabeth.
He remembers the pigs and goats his grandmother raised as well as peas, onions and cane fields. “We grew everything. I was exposed to a lot of different fruits and vegetables at a young age,” he says.