IF you’ve been to a falafel or shwarma stand in Israel, then you have probably heard of amba. It’s a spiced pickled mango condiment whose popularity in Israel comes by way of the Iraqi Jewish community.
This condiment is commonly found in Iraq and across the Middle East, as well as in India. In fact, amba originated in India, and the word means mango in Marathi.
You can find countless recipes and variations for amba, but the main and required ingredient is mango.
Most recipes also include mustard seed, turmeric, chilli and fenugreek.
Fenugreek, a herb that is often used in Indian, Persian, Turkish and Middle Eastern cooking, has a unique maple syrup-like aroma and can add an herbacious sweetness to a dish.
Traditionally, amba is made by slicing and salting green mangoes and placing them in a jar in the sun to ferment for five days.
The mango is then removed from the jar and left to dry in sunlight for three to four hours. Once dried, the mango is simmered with spices and then jarred for use.
You’ll definitely get a deeper flavour if you allow for longer fermentation of the mango, but you might want to make amba when you don’t have access to five sunny days in a row — or you just don’t want to wait that long.
Inspired by the techniques of many home cooks, I decided to make a quicker-pickled amba.
You still salt the mango, and you let it sit in that salt overnight, but that’s the extent of the wait time. The cured mango then gets cooked with a variety of spices and aromatics, and finally vinegar is added.
Amba is ideally made with green, unripe mangoes, which can be tricky to find. For this recipe any mango will work, but it is best to use ones that are firm and not fully ripe.
This recipe makes a mildly spicy amba; you can adjust the level of heat depending on how much chilli and cayenne you add. Skip the cayenne entirely if you don’t like things spicy.
I like amba that is a little thick with small chunks of mango, but if you like yours smoother and thinner, purée it until smooth and add water to thin it out to your desired consistency.
As versatile as it is delicious, amba is unlike any other hot sauce. In our home we especially like to have it on hand during summer because it goes great with just about any grilled protein: chicken, steak, tofu or fish.
It’s also nice to have for a grain bowl topping. Amba added to some yoghurt with a little lemon juice also makes a perfect dip for vegetables or pita chips.
Amba adds a tangy, fruity pop of heat to any dish.
- 4 large firm unripened mangoes
- 3 tablespoons salt
- 3 tablespoons oil
- 6 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 medium chilli pepper, seeded and diced fine, or to taste
- 2 teaspoons mustard seeds
- 1 tablespoon ground turmeric
- 2 teaspoons ground fenugreek
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- Pinch of cayenne, or to taste
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar, or to taste (or your preferred sweetener)
- 1 cup water
- ½ cup white vinegar
Peel your mangoes, then slice the fruit around the pit. Dice the mango into small cubes; they do not have to be even or perfect.
Put the diced mango in a large stainless steel bowl. Add salt to the mango and toss until everything is well-coated. Cover and refrigerate for 1 day.
After the mango has cured in the fridge, over medium-low heat add oil to a large pot or deep sauté pan.
Add the mustard seeds to the oil, and when they begin to make popping sounds, add the finely minced garlic and diced chilli.
Sauté until softened and fragrant, but before anything begins to brown, about 2-3 minutes.
Add the remaining spices: turmeric, fenugreek, coriander, cumin and cayenne. Stir and sauté for an additional minute.
Add the mango, brown sugar and water to the pot. Stir, increase the heat and bring the liquid up to a simmer.
Simmer for 5-6 minutes, or until the mango has softened and the liquid has slightly reduced.
Turn off the heat and add the vinegar to the mango mixture.
Taste and adjust to your liking by adding more vinegar, sugar, salt or spices.
Puree the mango to the desired consistency. Amba will thicken slightly as it cools.
Once cooled, transfer the amba to jars and refrigerate. Amba keeps well in the fridge for about 2-3 weeks. Makes 3 pints.
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