Mango ginger is nature’s own Heston Blumenthal kind of experiment, where a root looks like ginger but tastes like raw mango and belongs to the turmeric family (hence the shared first name Curcuma). The scientific name of mango ginger is Curcuma amada, while that of turmeric is Curcuma longa. Both the outer colour and the flesh are much paler than that of fresh turmeric. Flavour-wise, mango ginger has neither the spiciness and pungency of ginger nor the bitterness of turmeric. It has the delicate aroma and flavour of raw mangoes, without the tartness.
Come winter, you will find mango ginger being sold along with fresh turmeric and ginger in markets. The dried powdered form is also available online. Some of the Indian names for mango ginger are amba ada, amada, amba haldi, bana haldi and jangli haldi, as listed in the Dictionary Of Local-Botanical Names In Indian Folk Life by V. Jain and S.K. Jain.
The aroma of amba haldi is due to the presence of essential oils. According to a paper in the International Journal Of Chemical And Biochemical Sciences, mango ginger’s essential oils have antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-cancer properties. There is also some evidence to show regular consumption of mango ginger has a cholesterol-lowering effect. In the book Home Remedies, Volume 4, by T.V. Sairam, mango ginger is listed as being used in traditional medicine for relief from asthma, biliousness, bronchitis, hiccups and skin diseases.
Given its mild flavour and delicate aroma, amba haldi cannot be used as a replacement for ginger in flavouring curries. Its mildness cannot stand up to stronger flavours like garlic and other spices used in curries.
Amba haldi is predominantly used in pickles—both the quick and long-lasting varieties. Usha’s Pickle Digest: The Perfect Pickle Recipe Book, a compendium of 1,000 varieties of pickle by Usha Prabakaran, has 11 recipes with mango ginger, made in combination with ingredients like green chillies, green pepper and tamarind.
The easiest way to pickle mango ginger is in combination with fresh turmeric and green chillies, along with lime or lemon juice and salt. This quick oil-free pickle is more like a salad, made regularly in Gujarati households in winter. For those who don’t have the patience for pickles that take weeks, this is something that can be eaten instantly.
It can either be sliced thinly as rounds or cut into juliennes. Find a version of this refreshing, antioxidant rich pickle in the recipe here.
Another instant pickle, which needs a little more effort and oil, is thokku. Grated mango ginger is sautéed in oil along with tamarind extract, mustard seeds, red chilli powder and salt, until all the moisture dries out. Using a lot of oil, so that the thokku remains submerged under a layer of oil, allows it to stay for as long as a year. If less oil is used, the pickle needs to be refrigerated and used quickly.
For those not into pickling, here are a few more ways you can get creative with this fragrant root. Use it in soups paired with potatoes, pumpkin or onions. Cook it along with the vegetable and an aromatic like bay leaf. Purée, strain and thin with water, milk or vegetable stock and serve hot. Slices or juliennes of mango ginger add a unique flavour to salads. Slices marinated in lime juice, salt and chilli powder can also be drained and used in salads.
Grated mango ginger can be combined with mashed potatoes and paneer to make aloo tikkis. Use a generous quantity of mango ginger for the flavour to come through.
Grated mango ginger can be added to hung yogurt, spices and besan (chickpea flour) to make a marinade for preparing tandoori aloo, gobhi or paneer.
Other than the quick pickle, my favourite way to use mango ginger is in a dressing. The flavour adds an unmistakable punch.
MANGO GINGER AND TURMERIC INSTANT PICKLE
Makes around 150g
100g mango ginger
50g fresh turmeric roots
3 green chillies
2 tbsp pink Himalayan salt
Wash and wipe dry the mango ginger and turmeric roots. Lightly scrape the skins if required. If the roots are clean, then you may avoid scraping the peels.
Slice the roots thinly lengthwise. Pile up slices and chop into 1-inch-long thin juliennes. Slit and halve the green chillies. Grate or peel the lime skins using a sharp peeler and chop finely.
In a bowl, combine the julienned mango ginger and turmeric, green chillies, chopped lime peel and salt. Juice the limes into the bowl. Combine the ingredients with a clean spoon and fill into a clean dry glass jar. This can be eaten along with any meal or you can add a spoonful of this pickle to a salad. It can be left out and eaten within five-six days. The liquid left over when the pickle is finished can be used in place of lime juice and salt in a salad dressing.
LIP-SMACKING MANGO GINGER DRESSING
Makes around 100ml
2 tbsp mango ginger, grated
2 cloves garlic
Quarter cup cold-pressed sunflower oil
2 tbsp honey
Juice of 2 limes
1 small green chilli, chopped (optional)
Half tsp black pepper
Half tsp salt
Blend all the ingredients in a small jar of the mixer until thick and creamy. Remove into a glass jar. Save the airtight jar in the fridge and use the dressing within five-six days. The oil tends to separate out in the fridge. Give the bottle a good shake before using.
Use one tablespoon of dressing per portion of salad. It tastes delicious over a roasted root vegetable salad.
Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer is the author of The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian.