A few days ago, I was at the Indian store to refill my stock of masalas (spices) and chai (tea), when my gaze landed on a basket of mangoes sitting innocently on one of the counters. I froze. Literally. Froze. And then it hit me hard. The calendar is on May. MAY!!
For most desis (people from the Indian subcontinent), the month of May means three things – Summer, School vacations (holidays), and MANGO!!! In fact, May is also fondly referred to as Mango season. The state of Maharashtra is famous for a particular crop of mango, the haapus, globally known as the ALPHONSO, which rightfully wears the crown, the king of fruits! This mango, known for its heavy weight, sweet flavor, and rich golden yellow color, not to mention the heavenly aroma, has a special place in the heart of most desis.
Mangoes are a seasonal fruit, and ancient wisdom (and our taste buds), advise that consumption of seasonal produce has many health benefits. Aam (Mangoes) are very aam (common) throughout India during summer. Therefore, the Aam Panna (Mango drink) is also very aam (common) in this time of the year.
One look at the mangoes available in the Indian store, and immediately fell in love. The fruit looked quite plump and nice, their green skin looking firm and healthy. I bought a few, and needless to say, the mood at home that evening was one of celebration. (Bringing home mango for the first time in the mango season tends to turn family time into parties at our place).
Now, the mangoes were still green, which meant they weren’t ripe. They’d be sour and tangy to taste. As a family, we lack the patience to wait for the mango to ripen. Kairi (unripe mango) makes a perfect aam panna.
I chose two kairis (unripe mangoes), and after washing them properly (I even used soap and hot water to clean the unpeeled mangoes to avoid the contamination and the risk of the donotevensayhename virus).
Next step, lazy me simply tossed the clean, unpeeled kairis into the instapot with two cups of water at the base, and set it to steam for twenty minutes. After it turned off, I removed them from the steam, and kept them to cool. It took them an entire hour to cool down, and even then, they were still a little too warm to the touch! I busied myself with some other chores, because rushing this would waste the mangoes. It is VERY important to let them cool, or the skin will not come off easily. And worse, your mixer will explode with heat. The mere thought of cleaning up an exploded mixer is what kept me patient. Next, peel off the skin. That part is fairly easy, much like peeling off the skin off boiled potatoes. Very Important: Do NOT trash the peels. They are full of good stuff and have multiple uses, from skin cleansers, to candied mango. Will share more information and how-to for mango peels and pits in a separate blog.
Once the mangoes were peeled, I squeezed the flesh out of them until the inner pit felt almost dry. Stingy me, I put the pit in about half a cup of water for a few minutes and then squeeze again, greedy for those few drops of mango. Pro Tip: Call upon the strongest person in your family to do this, for every single drop of mango, ripe or unripe, is a drop of nectar!
Next step, I poured all this juice into a mixer, with half a cup of water (optional, this depends on the strength of the mixer you are using. Mine struggles with thick, pasty fluids, so I have to add water to make them a little runny). In this, I added jaggery almost the same amount as the pulp, and half a teaspoon of rock salt. Pro tip: If you have rock salt, or better still, black salt, you have a chef’s treasure as far as the aam panna is concerned. If not, good ol’ white salt is just as good. Salt not only adds to the flavor, but also to the body of the drink. It is highly recommended in this drink because of its ability to help replace electrolytes lost due to the heat of Indian summers.
Now that all the ingredients had met each other, I ran them together in the mixer so that there were no lumps left. As an added step, I usually pour this concoction into a vessel and simmer it on very low flame just to make sure the jaggery has dissolved completely. I like to take a tiny bit on a spoon and taste it at this stage, so that I can add more jaggery or salt to adjust the flavor to the taste buds of my family.
Once I was sure the taste was just right, I crushed a pod or two of cardamom and added it into the concoction. Pro tip: store-bought cardamom powder works equally well. Cardamom is known for its cooling properties, and is therefore, a perfect addition to this summer drink. A couple of strands of saffron, if you have it, will make you feel like royalty. Pro tip: A couple drops of saffron syrup will give you the same feeling.
Back to the concoction. It now looks like a thick paste. Allow it to cool before storing in an airtight container. To use it immediately, take a spoonful of the concoction in a glass, and pour water over it. Pro tip: You can use chilled water, Sparkling water, Tonic water, and if you are of legal drinking, a dash of vodka. Make sure you stir well. To celebrate yourself for all this not very hard work, decorate your glass with a sprig of mint, kick back your heels, rest your feet, and sit back to enjoy your aam panna.
Here’s the complete list of ingredients for aam-panna (serves 3 to 4):
- 2 to 3 unripe or semi ripe mangoes of any variety.
- 1 cup jaggery (unrefined cane sugar)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt. You can use any one of these: regular iodized salt, or rock salt, or black salt.
Recipe at a glance:
- Steam unpeeled unripe mangoes until they are soft.
- Peel cooked, cooled mangoes, and save the peels.
- Squeeze the pit for every drop of the cooked flesh of the unripe mangoes.
- In a mixer, add this juice, same amount of jaggery as the juice, salt, and run the mixer until there are no lumps.
- Pour into a thick-bottomed vessel (or microwave container), and take a tiny sample for tasting. Add more jaggery or salt if required.
- Simmer on low flame on stove. For Microwave, heat on one-minute intervals and keep stirring and checking. Stop heating when you see a thick paste. This is called aam panna concentrate. You can stop even before it forms a thick paste. The thicker the concentrate, the longer it will last in the refrigerator.
- Let cool.
- To use, spoon some concentrate into a glass and pour water over it.
- It is usually served chilled because of summer time, but even at room temperature, the panna is just as refreshing.
Serving suggestions: Serve with chilled water, sparkling water, or tonic water.
Serving decoration: Rim the glass! Salt and chilli are traditional favorites for most beverages, but because the aam panna has a slightly sour/tangy flavor, I like to add a bit of coarse sugar in my rim mix. A dash of ginger powder to the rim mix elevates the drink to an altogether different level.
Now that I’ve done my duty of the day (sharing my aam panna recipe), I need to cool down with a glass of the drink myself. Mango Season, after all, y’all!
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