Mad About Mangoes

It’s that time of the year folks … it’s the Mango Season!
And while there are hundreds of varieties of mangoes in the market right now, the only one I’m excited about is the Indian Alphonso mango.

It’s in season only from April to June or July. When ripe, it’s sweeter and a lot less fibrous than other varieties of the fruit. It also has a distinctive and delicate aroma that easily differentiates it from other mangoes.

It’s a delicacy, an obsession and if you ask me, you really haven’t lived until you’ve had one.

The Alphonso mango is grown mainly in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, the capital of which is Bombay, or Mumbai as it’s now called. Come late March, fruit vendors start proudly displaying Alphonso mangoes on their stands. That’s still early in the season and I remember as a kid i’d start pestering my dad to buy some as soon as they arrived. But being a practical middle-class family, we’d wait a week or two until the initial buying frenzy subsided and the prices cooled off a bit.

Now that I live in Hong Kong, that process is not as straightforward. But at least Alphonso mangoes are exported here. While that makes them a bit more expensive, who can put a price on all the sweet memories it invokes? I left my number at the local Indian store last week to call me as soon as they arrived. And I promptly picked them up when they did. My husband came along to witness my joy as I skipped home with a box of mangoes in tow and the biggest smile on my face.

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Turmeric-Roasted Cauliflower with Potato Gnocchi

Turmeric-Roasted Cauliflower with Potato Gnocchi

We’re living in the age of the cauliflower. This former B-list vegetable has really become a star in recent years, working its way into everything from pizza crusts to standalone cauli “steak”. I’d argue that cauliflower battered and fried florets are a worthy challenger to the traditional chicken nugget — but that’s just my opinion.

It’s no surprise then that cauliflower — like the infamous Aloo-Gobhi, which literally translates to potato and cauliflower in Hindi — remains one of my all-time favorite dishes. It’s a fairly simple preparation, where the two vegetables are sautéed with onions, tomatoes and a light spice dusting, and enjoyed with a side of rice or chapatis.

I decided to make this dish recently with a little twist: substituting out the hearty potatoes for light and fluffy gnocchi (pronounced nee-oh-kee). This combo makes it great as a side dish or full meal in itself.

For those who may not be familiar with this food item, gnocchi is a potato-based pasta that resembles mini dumplings.

For the gnocchi, I used the Pasta Social Club’s recipe. They’re so irresistibly good that I ate several pieces before they made their way into the final dish. Store-brought gnocchi would work well too if you’re pressed for time on prep.

Either way, boil the gnocchi with salt water when the cauliflower is in the oven. Drain them once they start to float and pan fry until they form a light brown crust, then set aside.

I’ve also opted to tweak the cooking method for the cauliflower. Instead of sautéing it, I decided to roast it first to bring out the sweet caramelized flavor, before mixing it together in one quick final step.

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Cold Cucumber Summer Soup For The Tropical Soul

Cold Cucumber Summer Soup For The Tropical Soul

What to cook when I don’t feel like cooking? That’s a question I ask myself a lot lately, as Hong Kong’s scorching summer heat makes me want to stay as far away from the stove as possible. But I think I’ve found a quick and tasty solution to this problem with my Cold Cucumber Summer Soup for the Tropical Soul.

It’s one of my easiest recipes to date and needs just a few basic ingredients. Cucumber, yogurt and mint leaves are the stars of the show, with just a little chili and onion to give it a nice kick. The coriander powder brings it all together by adding a sense of earthiness to the dish.

The inspiration for this soup comes from raita, a yogurt-based condiment with raw vegetables (mainly cucumber and tomatoes). It’s often served alongside spicy dishes in India to balance out the heat.

The soup comes together in less than five minutes and if you’re patient enough to let it chill for another five minutes in the fridge, you’ve got yourself a healthy, light and refreshing summer treat with minimal effort.

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Lamb Kebab Burger With Pickled Onions and Coriander Chutney

The words lamb, kebab and burger are enough to make anyone salivate. And if you’re tantalised by the sight of the crispy golden brown patty nestled on a bed of emerald-green chutney and pink-pickled onions, just wait until you taste it!

The inspiration for this dish comes from kebabs — which were my go-to late-night snack in Mumbai. The best ones could be found at street corners, where the aroma of spiced meat grilled on burning embers would draw in a crowd. There’s something very comforting about skewer-grilled kebabs rolled up in nan bread — also known as kathi-roll — and it has proven time and again to be the ultimate crowd-pleaser.

My burger recipe incorporates the main elements of this street-food favourite in a way that’s easy to prepare at home anytime you’re craving a kebab or a burger and can’t decide on one or the other! To make the kebab patty a little more burger-like, I like adding some parmesan cheese, which gives an added boost of flavour.

The recipe is made up of three main parts: the patty, pickled onions and chutney. The bun can be store-brought. I personally prefer the sweeter brioche rolls as they compliment the heat from the dish, but any bread will do.

The pickled onions and chutney can be made ahead and stored in the fridge to save time. I like making a little extra as they serve as great condiments with other savoury dishes. I specially like spreading the chutney on two slices of bread to make a simple cucumber and tomato sandwich. The chutney is quite versatile and you could also use it as a dip for snacks or chips. The cooling properties of coriander and mint make it a perfect accompaniment to spicy dishes, especially during summer. So it’s really worth the effort to whip up a little extra as it stays well in the fridge for up to a week.

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Rum-Spiked Thandai-Flavored Horchata

This easy-breezy springtime cocktail is a fusion of Indian and Mexican beverages.

The base for the cocktail is influenced by horchata, a sweet Mexican drink made with rice milk and infused with cinnamon. The flavour is based on thandai — a sweetened milk-based Indian drink with nuts and aromatics like rose petals, fennel and saffron — which is typically consumed when temperatures begin to soar during spring.

The lightness of the rice milk (infused with green cardamom for this recipe) makes for a perfect vehicle for the nutty and floral flavours from the thandai. The rum just adds to the excitement!

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Carrot Cardamom and Pistachio Cake with Saffron Cream Cheese Frosting

It’s the season for carrot cakes and this one’s about to blow your mind!

Think of it as carrot cake meets gajar halwa — an Indian sweet dish made by slow-cooking grated carrots in milk and sugar. The green cardamom has a prominent flavour in this cake, as in the gajar halwa, and I prefer it over cinnamon or nutmeg for summer recipes.

Also, carrot cake is typically made with oil but I’ve swapped it for brown butter for a rich and nutty flavour. I love the taste of brown butter and I use it instead of regular butter in baking whenever I can, for instance in cornbread. It’s fascinating how the same ingredient transforms flavour after heating for a few minutes.

While this cake is amazing enough to be had on its own, the cream cheese speckled with saffron strands makes it festive with its floral notes while also imparting a sunny hue to the cake.

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Sunday Chicken Puffs

Chicken Puffs
Chicken Puffs

This recipe takes me back to my childhood days. It reminds me of the time when my parents and I attended Sunday morning church service and they’d buy me chicken puffs on the way home. The promise of this this flakey buttery treat always got me through the long sermons. And I know I wasn’t the only one with this thought judging by the queue at the bakery next to church. It really is the perfect Sunday snack!

Chicken puffs are essentially puffed pastry crust packed with a spiced chicken filling. Now these are not to be confused with “curry puffs”, which I’ve come across in Hong Kong. Curry puffs are stuffed with minced beef or chicken cooked in “curry powder”, which is thought to be Indian but it really isn’t.

The pastry filling in my recipe consists of chicken cooked in onions, tomatoes and spices (not curry powder). The chicken can be easily substituted with vegetables like carrots, peas or potatoes for a vegetarian dish and it will still taste as good. When the chicken puffs ran out at that bakery from my childhood, I was happy to buy the vegetarian ones. Either way, puffs were the highlight of my Sunday.

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Lip-Smacking Watermelon and Crispy Pork Belly Salad

Life’s all about balance, and this watermelon and pork belly salad perfectly embodies this idea. It’s sweet, salty, tangy and spicy all at the same time and without being overwhelming. The lightness of the watermelon balances out the rich pork belly, while the crunchy greens drenched in a lemon and ginger dressing delicately bind this dish together. One may call it a carefully orchestrated symphony for your tastebuds.

The inspiration for this salad comes from the famous Fatty Crab restaurant that I frequented in my early days in Hong Kong. This dish and house wine were my Saturday night staples. Some of you may think the combination of watermelon and pork is a bit outlandish but it works! Just like pineapple slices on pizza.

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