mango

The key to making restaurant-style mango lassi is to use mango puree, not the fresh fruit. (IANS photo)

The beginning of summer in India — indeed, the entire subcontinent — is marked by the beginning of mango season. The combination of soaring temperatures and these sweet, juicy fruits at the market sends the entire country into a tizzy!

Though India grows more than 1,000 varieties of mangoes, one clearly wears the crown, dubbed "the king of fruits" by the locals: the Alphonso.

It's rarely seen here in the U.S., and what a tragedy that is for mango lovers like myself. Alphonso mangoes are big and buxom in both size and flavor. This is no shrinking violet of a mango. The mango flavor is loud, sweet and intoxicating, which combined with its juicy, buttery texture sets my heart on fire.

Luckily for us, we can get a close facsimile: Alphonso mango puree. You can often find it both canned and frozen. One of my favorite things to do with it is pour it directly into an ice cream machine to make sorbet. You can also use it as a smooth, fruity layer in a tropical summer trifle or use it to make a mango mousse.

In India, pureed mango is mixed with milk or cream and served with deep fried rounds of dough called 'puris.' The hot fried bread against the cool, creamy mango is an unbeatable match.

But perhaps my favorite way to use it is to make a lassi, the Indian yogurt drink that is ubiquitous at Indian restaurants here. It took me years to figure out that the key to making a restaurant-style mango lassi was not to use fresh fruit but to use mango puree. Fresh American mangoes aren't nearly brash enough to counteract the tang of the yogurt. So make a big batch and keep it in the refrigerator. Let the king of fruit reign!

Real Deal Mango Lassi

Start to finish: 10 minutes

Servings: 4

2 cups mango puree

1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt

1/2 cup water

Big pinch of salt

Big pinch ground cardamom (optional)

4 to 5 ice cubes

Sugar, to taste

In a blender, combine all the ingredients. Blend until smooth and well combined. Blend for an additional 30 seconds to give the lassi a lighter, whipped texture. Then pour the mixture into chilled glasses, and serve immediately.

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