As you may know, I watch an awful lot of cooking television. A recent discovery is ‘Luke Nguyen's Greater Mekong’ which focuses on the food of the areas around the Mekong River - going through parts of China, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. It is an area of the world I know comparatively little about, and it is fascinating. As Luke Nguyen is Vietnamese, I find it more culturally sensitive, and less excruciatingly touristy/voyeuristic than some of the other travel-based food programmes.
One part of the show that I found incredibly interesting was in part of Cambodia, where one of the local delicacies is deep-fried tarantula. They looked pretty terrifying, and apparently taste a little bit like peanut butter. Luke Nguyen explained that during the time of the Khmer Rouge, the people were starving and resorted to eating the spiders as a vital source of protein. It might be a little strange to think how what is essentially ‘food of our oppression’ could become a national dish – one might think that people would never want to eat that sort of thing again. But food memory doesn’t really work like that. There is the passover seder of course, and I’m sure a lot of the traditional ashkenazic foods were inspired by the scarcity and poverty of life in the shtetls and during the wars. I recently read that Japanese Ramen noodles have a similar heritage.
But anyway, this mango salad is nothing to do with oppression – it is just super delicious. I saw Luke Nguyen make a similar salad to this – also in Cambodia I think. This salad, and the similar version made with green papaya traditionally contain dried shrimps, and I am so pleased to have come across this recipe on Michael Natkin’s brilliant vegetarian blog Herbivoracious (see above) to inspire me to make a vegetarian version. I did however shred the mangoes in an authentic way (the most fun I have had in ages). Basically, you peel the skin from the mango, and carefully slice into it all the way around with a large heavy knife – creating little grooves. By peeling these grooves with a vegetable peeler, you get perfect strips of shredded mango. You could of course use a julienne peeler – but where is the fun in that?
About this recipe Michael writes: “Green mango (or papaya) salad is addictive. It hits all those sweet, tangy and fresh notes that wake up your palate at the beginning of a meal, or refresh it after a bite of spicy curry.”
- Juice of 1 lime
- 2 tsp sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil (optional)
- 2 under-ripe mangos, shredded into fine strips
- ½ red onion, cut into very thin rings and soaked briefly in cold water
- 1-2 small chillies, finely sliced (I used 1 red one)
- 1 big handful fresh coriander leaves, shredded not too fine (fresh herbs, coriander especially I find, tend to go mushy if chopped if they are still really wet from washing – a salad spinner is perfect for this)
- 1 handful fresh mint leaves, shredded not too fine
- 1 tbsp chopped salted peanuts (for passover, substitute with salted cashews)
- 1 tbsp crispy fried onions – you can either do this yourself by frying onions with salt until brown and crispy, or buy them ready-made in packets. Obviously I went for the packet option. I love these onions – they are also brilliant as crouton in soups or other salads.
Combine the lime juice, sugar, salt ginger, and sesame oil. Mix well to dissolve the sugar. Taste and adjust the balance of flavours if needed.
Just before serving, combine the dressing with the mango, red onion, chilli and most of the herbs and peanuts.
Garnish with the remaining peanuts, fried onions and herbs.