pickled mango | amba

Amba

People who are used to eating a lot of Middle Eastern food are generally not afraid of sourness. There should be some element in a Middle Eastern dinner that, if eaten on its own, would make your eyes squint shut, your nose fill with vinegar, and your mouth pucker to a point.

Not all of us eat these things on their own or have an obsession with sour foods, but eating entire lemons whole is not unheard of. We sometimes dust on so much sumac that you can't see the food underneath. After doling out pomegranate molasses, we lick the spoon, and make the face. It's almost unbearable—it brings tears to our eyes. And if you're always trying to find something that's another level of sour, amba, or pickled mango, is a really good one.

Mangoes
Mango

According to Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, amba (also known as torshi anbeh) is originally from India, but it has become a staple of Middle Eastern cuisine. The key to amba's distinct flavor is fenugreek seeds, which taste a little like celery, but with a nice umami flavor and fragrance. Many good yellow curry powders include fenugreek seeds, so if you can't find them, substituting more yellow curry powder in its place will approximate the flavor. I've included instructions in the recipe for anyone who needs to make this substitution. Middle Eastern amba doesn't always include mango, but fenugreek seems to be the uniting factor in just about all recipes. For instance, cabbage amba is another popular amba pickle. Sham of Vegan Iraqi Food has a wonderful recipe for cabbage amba, with plenty of fenugreek flavor. But in any event, amba is incredibly tart and delicious.

Spices
Amba / Pickled Mangoes
Amba / Pickled Mangoes

One of the things that makes mango amba so tangy is the fact that you're starting out with an ingredient that's already sour before it even hits the vinegar brine. Instead of standing in the produce aisle gently pressing on every mango to try to find the one that yields to slight pressure, you'll weed through a million ripe, perfect mangoes to find the tough green ones that everyone else rejects. These mangoes are crunchy, tart, and ideal for pickling, since they will soften slightly instead of entirely melting into the vinegar.

While ripe mangoes are a cinch to slice into pieces, unripe mangoes are just a little different, since you have to use a lot more pressure to slice through it, and the peel won't release from the meat very easily. Feel free to use the gifs above as a guide.

Prepping the mangoes is the most time-consuming part of this recipe, but it only takes about ten minutes. Everything else is as simple as boiling the water, vinegar, and seasoning, pouring it over the mango slices, and letting it sit in the fridge for at least a day or two. Like any pickle, amba will keep for a long time. Discard it after a while if it seems off (but, as they say, it probably won't last that long).

Amba / Pickled Mangoes

Pickled mango | amba

yields: 2 pints
active time: 15 minutes
total time: at least 3 hours 15 minutes
for a salad variation, check out my
amba slaw
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  • 3 green, unripened mangoes *

  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

  • 3/4 cups water

  • 3/4 cups apple cider vinegar

  • 2 1/4 teaspoons curry powder

  • 3/4 teaspoons ground turmeric

  • 2 1/4 teaspoons ground fenugreek seeds **

  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

  • 1 3/4 teaspoons fine sea salt

  1. Pit and peel the mangoes and then slice them into thin strips. Coat them in lemon juice. ***

  2. Pack the mangoes into two pint-sized canning jars.

  3. In a small saucepan, combine water, cider vinegar, curry powder, turmeric, fenugreek, red pepper flakes, and sea salt. Bring to a boil and then immediately remove from heat. Pour over the mangoes.

  4. This recipe is designed for 2 pints, but if you need to, feel free to top them off with a tablespoon or two of lemon juice. If the tops are poking out, give them a shake every day for the first few days.

  5. Store the amba in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours before serving. It is pretty good as a quickle after 3 hours, but it's even better after a few days.

Serving suggestions: This is a very flavorful pickle and should be served with food that doesn't have a lot of flavor and piquancy of its own; use this anywhere you want to add acidity and brightness, like you would with a chutney, relish, or salsa. Serve alongside grilled meats and veggies, burgers, hot dogs, riza sh'ariyeh, and/or a simple salad with a very light dressing. Leave the amount of amba up to your guests instead of plating it for them. Everyone has a different preference for tartness, and while some guests will polish off a whole pint, others will only have one or two pieces (but rest assured, just about everyone will love it).

* The mangoes should be very firm and should not yield to pressure. It's ok if they are a little red, but they should be mostly green (judge by squeezing more than color).
** You can easily find ground fenugreek seeds online or in almost any Indian market. Although they're from the same plant, they taste very different from fenugreek leaves (just like cilantro doesn't taste like coriander seeds). You can sometimes find fenugreek seeds in Middle Eastern markets and health foods stores, but I find that Indian markets are the only really reliable source. If you can't find ground fenugreek seeds, feel free to leave it out and use a total of 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon curry powder for the recipe.
*** See above gifs for instructions on pitting and peeling unripe mangoes. It's a little different than pitting and peeling a ripe mango, since you can't easily separate the flesh from the peel and you have to use a bit more pressure to slice through, and must therefore stabilize it.

Amba / Pickled Mangoes

sweet, sour, and spicy masgouf

Sweet, Sour, and Spicy Masgouf

If you've been reading these masgouf posts all week (also known as masguf or masgoof), and you've been feeling like neither one is exactly what you'd order from a restaurant menu, then I hope this sweet, sour, and spicy masgouf piques your interest. It's sweetened with just a little brown sugar, spiced with some red pepper flakes, and made extra tangy with tamarind paste in place of some of the lemon. It's got all the cheerfulness of the green and herby masgouf, without being overly virtuous, and it's got some of the earthiness of the smoky and deep masgouf, without being too serious.

Sweet, Sour, and Spicy Masgouf Marinade
Sweet, Sour, and Spicy Masgouf
onions
Orange Tomato

While orange tomatoes are totally optional here (the recipe will work just great with garden variety red ones), I think the pink, orange, and green colors make it look extra festive. With such fun colors and flavors, this dish is perfect for a summer celebration, especially for anyone planning a graduation party this week.

Sweet, Sour, and Spicy Masgouf
Sweet, Sour, and Spicy Masgouf

sweet, sour, and spicy masgouf

Yield: 2 to 3 servings (can easily be multiplied)
Active time: 30 minutes
Total time: 1 hour

marinating the fish

1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder (either store-bought or homemade)
2 teaspoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon tamarind paste *
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1/8 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
10 to 12 ounces of white, lean fish fillets (about 1 big or 2 small fillets) **

  • Add the lemon juice, curry powder, light brown sugar, tamarind paste, red pepper flakes, olive oil, and salt to a large ziplock bag, seal the bag and mix everything around by squeezing the bag a few times.

  • Pat the fish dry with paper towels, and place it in the bag with the marinade. Squeeze the bag to evenly coat the fish in the marinade. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes(or up to 4 hours ahead if you want to make it ahead).

grilling the fish

1/2 cup large-diced tomatoes (orange tomatoes work really nicely, but any variety will do)
2 tablespoons thinly sliced red onions (fill a quarter cup halfway)
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon tamarind paste
1/4 to 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1/8 teaspoon salt
optional: 1 teaspoon minced parsley (for garnish)

  • When you're ready to cook the fish, preheat the grill to high. If you're broiling, set the oven to broil 5 minutes before you're ready to cook (all broilers work a little differently, so pre-heating times will vary).

  • For the topping: combine the diced tomatoes, red onions, lemon juice, tamarind paste, red pepper flakes, brown sugar, curry powder, olive oil, and salt.

  • Take the fish from the marinade, do not pat it dry, and place it on a grill-safe tray (with a rim if you're using the broiler).

  • Top the fish with the tomato mixture and broil or grill with the lid down until the fish is flaky. Cooking times vary, depending on how big your fish is and how hot your grill is, but you can count on at least 6 minutes.

  • Garnish with minced parsley and serve immediately.

* You can normally find tamarind paste in Indian, Middle Eastern, and Asian markets, specialty food stores, and even sometimes a very well-stocked supermarket.
** catfish is pictured, but you could use tilapia, cod, carp, branzino, or any other similar fish.

Masgouf Trio