(THE WASHINGTON POST) - I adore mango in so many forms. Puree as the base of an Indian dal (lentil dish). Chutney to go on a grilled cheese sandwich. Frozen in ice cream. But fresh? I always seemed to walk by those giant crates in the grocery store.
In fact, it was not until I bought, oh, a dozen or so for the purposes of this very story that I realised how much I had been missing. Here is what you, too, should know about this sweet, sunny fruit.
Familiarise yourself with what you will find at the store.
The average grocery store will most often have one, or both, of two types. The first is Tommy Atkins. This is probably what you envision when you think of a mango. It is relatively large, round or oval with a wider middle. It has green skin that is often tinted with a little to a lot of red.
The other common variety goes by a number of aliases - Champagne, honey and ataulfo among them. These run a bit smaller, with more of a flattened oval shape. The colour may vary depending on the state of ripeness, but they are green or yellow on the outside. I have found Champagnes to be sweeter and softer than the more tart and fibrous Tommy Atkins.
Mangoes are best when they are really ripe.
You may need to let them ripen longer than you expect. I cut into some I mistakenly thought were ripe, and, boy, was that a mouth-puckering surprise. If that is what you enjoy, great.
The ripening cues are a bit different, depending on which of the above varieties you buy. It is easy to tell when Champagnes are ripe. The colour will change from green to yellow to almost gold, and the fruit will soften and even get wrinkly on the outside. The green-red varieties will not similarly change colours on the outside. They should yield to pressure from a gentle squeeze and smell sweet and fragrant at the stem end. Mangoes can be ripened on the counter at room temperature, placed in a closed paper bag to speed up the process (putting an apple or banana in the bag will help even more). Store ripe fruit in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for about a week, give or take.
There is a really big pit.
Mango pits take up most of the middle of the fruit. You need to work around it to get the flesh.
Personally, I would not bother trying to peel the mango first. The flesh is slippery, and I think you are just asking for trouble trying to grip it as you progressively remove more skin with a knife or peeler. Instead, stand the mango on its wider end (the bottom, if you will) and turn it so the thinner face of the fruit is facing you. Envision the pit taking up about half an inch or so and then, starting off center about where you guess the edge of the pit is, cut away the fruit on both sides from top to bottom. You may hit the pit as you drag your knife through the fruit and that is fine - just carve around it and continue on your way.
If you turn a cut side of the middle to face you, you may be able to see a little more flesh next to the pit that you can nick off for a snack. You have a few options with the large pieces you just cut off. Similar to working with avocado halves, you can use a spoon to scoop the flesh out of the skin, or you can score the flesh into a grid to then scoop it out into ready-made chunks.
Keep some of those other mango products on hand, too.
Some stores carry frozen mango pulp; look for Goya brand. I most often turn to canned, which I pick up at the closest Indian grocery store. I like to throw it in yogurt or smoothies or the aforementioned dal. The puree also makes for a great salad dressing.
Frozen chunks can also be used in smoothies. Thawed and well-drained, they would be great in a fruit salad or salsa. If they are still frozen, toss them into your morning bowl of oatmeal partway through cooking. They could also be a fun stand-in for ice cubes in your choice or drink, with or without alcohol.