Sour, Sweet, Hot and Salty: "Amba" Mango Condiment

By • May 8, 2012 • 8 Comments

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Author Notes: My disposition on a bad-hair day. Kidding.

This my interpretation of the unlikely condiment offered at felafel stands from Israel to NY. Unlikely because it seems to have roots in a tasty Indian condiment Meth-amba (sp.?) that apparently came to Israel via Iraqi Jews who arrived as refugees. They set up shawarma and felafel stands in the suburbs of Tel Aviv to serve their compatriots the taste of home. I am not sure how Iraqis first came by this preparation--that is the missing link-- but to taste it is to become instantly addicted to its hot/sour/sweet flavor. Israelis love a variety of strong flavors with their felafel: pickled miniature eggplants, cured lemons, hot harissa mixtures, and chopped salads combined with milder techina and hummus make each bite a surprise. Thus this condiment has been enthusiastically embraced as one more yummy addition to the melange of flavors. Israeli versions include garlic and cumin; some recipes use vinegar or sour salt, some are a raw puree. Indian iterations seem to include, simply, asfoetida, fenugreek and mustard seeds. My sources are Mirj's online translation of a recipe from a cookbook by Gil Hovev, Matanot Mehamitbach (Gifts from the Kitchen) for the Israeli version. Hovev first pickles the mangoes for 4 days, sun-dries them, then cooks them. Vaishali at Happyburp.com provides a more immediate Indian version: Simmer mango and spices together and serve with rice. I added fresh minced hot peppers, lemon juice and sumac for extra heat and tartness and kept things chunky. A day for the raw mangoes to absorb the salt and a day to let the flavors ripen worked well; I omitted the garlic to allow the fruity notes of the mango to be heard.

creamtea

Makes 1 scant quart

  • 5 smallish green (unripe) mangoes, peeled and diced
  • 2 or 2-1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 2 fresh small hot chili peppers (I used one Fresno for color and one Serrano), seeds and veins removed, finely minced (wear rubber gloves)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon ground sumac
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more or less, according to taste)
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • water as needed-have ready 1 cup
  1. Toss the mango with the salt in a non-reactive bowl. Cover and chill overnight.
  2. The next day, heat a wide pan over medium-low heat. Add oil. When it shimmers, add mustard seeds. When they start to sputter, turn heat quickly to low and add peppers. Stir once--you don't want to scorch the mixture.
  3. Add mango and spices, stirring to incorporate. Add lemon juice. If mixture appears dry stir in water in about 1/4 cup increments. Add brown sugar, stir until melted in.
  4. Cook, stirring, until mango chunks are tender, adding water as needed. Taste for seasoning and adjust.
  5. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Scrape into container(s) and refrigerate.
  6. Allow to cure at least overnight. Use as a condiment for felafel, shawarma, poultry, fish or meat, a cheese sandwich or a lunch of strained Greek yogurt and crisp Scandinavian flatbread if you're feeling multi-national.
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5 months ago The Weiser Kitchen

I was under the impression that amba's culinary roots were "native" to baghdad and then brought to Bombay when a significant group of jews immigrated to Bombay. The Bene Israel were in another area of India, the konkan coast area. There was little contact with these 18th century Baghdadi Jews- " latecomers" to India in comparison to the millennium old communities. There were two other distinct Indian Jewish groups from cochin , India. All have distinct culinary traditions, but beyond the amazing Claudia Roden, and some Gil Marks, it's not well known. Within Isreal it seems as Indian ( I never heard about it being more specific than that) and it is found in the Levant in general. Who knows what came first and who influenced whom? Amba is really interesting ( as food of course it's yummy -) but also as a historical artifact. I will spend some time looking into it in detail and making some calls to get to the bottom of this, but it may end up being dissertation worthy. Fascinating stuff!!! Thanks for the great recipe!! I am sharing!!

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4 months ago creamtea

Thanks, Weiser Kitchen! Please let me know what you learn in relation to the birth and travels of this condiment.

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about 1 year ago Panfusine

Wow.. this is one of the classic crossover recipes that has its origins faar far away from ISrael. Amba is the native Maharashtrian term for mangoes and was popularized by the Bene Israel community that had made the Mango growing region of Ratnagiri along the Konkan Coast of the Arabian sea, their home. You're making me homesick all over again in a wonderful way creamtea

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about 1 year ago creamtea

Panfusine, thanks so much for the information! Very excited to learn that there is a connection to the Bene Israel community, since I had not known that before. Funny how things come full circle! Claudia Roden has many Bene Israel recipes in her cookbook, and those I've tried have been delicious. And thanks for clarifying the linguistic source for the word; I mistakenly thought there was some association with "amber" due to the color!

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about 1 year ago Panfusine

Yotam Ottolenghi had written about the origins of amba in his book Jerusalem, which is where I learned about it. and then it all fell into place raking up memories of an old friend from college who's ancestral home happened to be from that area.

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about 1 year ago creamtea

Oh, thanks, I have the book and will look it up. I always enjoy looking at your submissions by the way, and am addicted to your ramp-tramp potatoes (I make them with garlic when ramps are out of season), which were an inspiration for my potato-pea pancakes (in this same "spicy food" contest).

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over 2 years ago creamtea

I'm guessing 3 1/2 or 4 but sorry--told myself to measure, promptly forgot. I bought 4 Tommy Atkins and one Haitian which was a little larger (but also was fibrous--would stick with the Atkins).

Cakes

over 2 years ago Bevi

This brings back memories of my time is Israel. About how many cups of diced mangos would you say you come up with? I would like to try this and double the recipe.