For this month’s #LetsLunch, a virtual monthly potluck on Twitter, the theme is 3-ingredient recipes. I thought of all the simplest recipes I know, many of which are my favorite recipes, period. We just came back from Trinidad, so I decided to remember the trip by making one of my favorite new tastes, mango chow. This is a really easy recipe– a child with basic knife skills can make it. Even so, I had to cheat a little to whittle this down to 3 ingredients: mango, garlic and shado beni or culantro (here substituted with cilantro). These three ingredients are the soul of this zesty snack.
What is chow? It’s basically a garlicky, spicy fruit salad. I’ve long laughed at my husband, who best enjoys any fruit doused with a shot of Trinidadian pepper sauce. Anything– apples, peaches, mangoes. I tell him, don’t waste that! And he continues chomping. I didn’t understand the drive to pour hot sauce on sweet fruit until our trip to Trinidad last week to visit my in-laws, when I had a chow revelation.
How did this happen? It started out with feeling carsick, and all-too-familiar predicament I unfortunately found myself in whenever I was driven along the winding, bumpy roads in Trinidad. After one such drive, I started the 2-hour boat tour of Caroni Swamp expecting the worst. Ever since my first trip to Trinidad two decades ago, I had longed to see Trinidad’s national bird, the Scarlet Ibis, in its natural habitat, Caroni Swamp. In the state I found myself in, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it. It didn’t help that I was in the last row of the boat, in front of the motor, which was spewing gas fumes right in my face; nor that we were surrounded by a lively and loud family group that talked, laughed and snacked nonstop. I didn’t mind passing their snacks to various members of their group, and was not shy/positively excited to accept an offer of their homemade mango and pommecythere chow. One bite of the tart, garlicky and spicy fruit snack , and my nausea disappeared. I was rejuvenated (yes, by chow) just in time to appreciate the wildlife of Caroni, which include such wonders as tree-climbing crabs, snakes, silky anteaters, herons and humongous termite nests on trees (oh my!). And the finale– the astonishing scarlet flock of scarlet ibis, Trinidad’s national bird, flying in to roost for the night. Chow and scarlet ibis– two singularly Trini experiences.
These are not blooms but some of the hundreds of scarlet ibis I witnessed flying to roost and sunset.
closeup of a scarlet ibis via Wikipedia images
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Trinidadian Mango Chow
The 3 main ingredients are unripe mango, culantro and garlic. To it, you add other seasonings to taste– pepper sauce, lime juice, salt and pepper. You can also substitute other fruits, so long as they are tart– think Granny smith apples, plums, pineapple. Cucumbers and pommecytheres, a plum-like citrus fruit, are commonly used in Trinidad. I’m planning to try to grow some culantro, because while cilantro is its botanical relative and a passable substitute, I’d use it here only because culantro is harder to obtain. (It’s known by many names in the areas it is grown: In the Americas, it is known as culantro ,shado beni or bandhaniya, recao, long coriander, wild or Mexican coriander, fitweed, spiritweed, stinkweed, duck-tongue herb, sawtooth or saw-leaf herb, and sawtooth coriander. The Vietnamese call it ngò gai’.) Culantro is the herb I associate most with Trini cooking, a key component of “green seasoning” (along with thyme, chives and celery),and a unique flavor I think once I grow it, I’ll be using it on everything.
Serves 2 as a snack
1 unripe mango
1 clove garlic, minced
1-2 tablespoons shado beni/culantro/, minced
Trinidadian pepper sauce or habanero pepper sauce to taste
Juice of a lime
salt and pepper to taste
1. Choose an unripe mango: it should be greenish and firm with a slight give, not rock solid.
2. Peel the mango with a peeler, then slice it into strips or slices. Trinis include the pit and it’s the lucky one who gets to suck on that.
3. Add minced garlic, culantro or cilantro, pepper sauce to taste, and squeeze the juice of a lime over it. You can add salt and pepper to taste, if desired.
No, this humble plant is not a weed. This is culantro, growing in an herb garden on Tobago. The longer leaves are what are used to season many things, wonderfully.
4. Stir it up, and eat up!
Thanks for coming by! If you enjoyed this post, please comment and share it with your friends. And please come back later to see the other contributions to #LetsLunch, and in the coming weeks for more of my Trini eating adventures.