They began falling early and in abundance. Trees that lay dormant in past years are hanging low with the weight of fruit shining violet and green and all shades of orange like long forgotten Christmas lights. While walking the dog in my parents’ neighborhood I spied an elderly couple tying extra support beams to their year-old sapling whose young branches bent earthward, the dozen or so absurdly large mangoes flirting with blades of grass.
For me, the beginning of summer is not defined by a holiday weekend or the end of school or the tilt of the earth but by two distinct smells: imminent thunderstorms and ripe mangoes. This weekend, as Joanna and I watched grey-black clouds overtake Biscayne Bay from a bench swing in Stiltsville, our sweet-smelling fingers stained orange, my summer arrived.
We’ve rhapsodized about mangoes before, and I still hold that the ripe fruit alone is better than any recipe out there. The one possible exception is mango salsa. It is sweet and spicy and impossible to eat in small quantities. I’ll make pints of it, certain that I’m set for at least a week of delicious snacking, but none too surprised when I find the container empty the next afternoon. Everyone in the family has her own recipe, each featuring diced fresh mango.
After years of trying every possible shortcut to get at the flesh of a mango, I must admit that using a peeler (though not my favorite task) gives the best results. To achieve the small dice perfect for chip scooping, look at the shape of the mango and determine where its flat elliptical seed runs from top to bottom. Use one hand to steady the fruit lengthwise on a cutting board so that the seed is perpendicular with the board. Cut quarter- to half-inch slices until you reach the seed; repeat on opposite side. A medium-large mango should yield 3-4 slices per side. Dice into evenly sized cubes. Using a paring knife, detach any remaining fruit from the seed.
This salsa isn’t just for chips. It’s great on grilled chicken, skirt steaks, fish, wrapped in a burrito, or tossed in a summer salad. I’ve been known to eat it straight up with a spoon. Best of all, making it requires only fresh ingredients and a sharp knife.
2 mangoes, diced in ½ inch cubes
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 jalapeño pepper, diced
½ small red onion, finely diced
½ can black beans, drained and rinsed
Juice of 1-2 limes
2 tsp. olive oil (optional—counters the acidity of other ingredients)
1 small handful of cilantro, chopped
Salt and cumin, to taste
Combine first five ingredients in large bowl. Mix in lime juice and olive oil (if using) at the same time. Add ¼ tsp each of salt and cumin, stir, taste, and add sparingly to taste. Stir in cilantro and serve or keep in refrigerator for up to 5 days.
I find the salsa is best after chilling for a few hours, when the raw onion mellows, and the flavor trio of spicy jalapeño, sour lime, and sweet mango to melds into smooth perfection.