One of the more unusual ingredients in the Indian spice cabinet is the sharp, tangy amchur (also spelled as amchoor), or dried mango powder. "Aam" is the Hindi word for mango. Amchur is usually made at the beginning (or occasionally the end of) summer, which is mango season in India. My grandmother harvested unripe, green, sharply sour mangoes, which she then thinly sliced on her sharp, slightly scary sickle seat (a wooden stool with a sharp curved machete attached to it). She placed the slices on straw mats in the sun until they were crisp. Some of these dried slices were then ground to powder, which she sieved several times to remove any fibrous bits, and then stored in her dark spice cupboard. She also stored some of the dried mango slices whole.
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So how do you use it?
Amchur is usually used in North Indian cuisine; it's also a primary ingredient in chaat masala, the fragrant, tangy mix of spices that is used as a finishing spice and is a primary ingredient in a lot of Indian street food. Most of the amchur that we made in our home was used to flavor fruits and vegetables and added to thin, spicy soups and stews. My family also used the spice to add an extra layer of tanginess to spicy fruit and vegetable pickles. Whole, dried mango slices can also be used in curries to add a sharply sour, yet fruity flavor and fragrance.
I use amchur in a simple marinade for fish or chicken—and also with rock salt as a finishing spice, lightly sprinkled over ripe fruit. Amchur needs to be used with a little caution, as it can be very sharp, thus overwhelming delicate flavors, but the right amount adds a beautiful complexity to curries like chana masala and other kinds of Indian street food. It is also delicious stirred into a fruit smoothie with ground cardamom, a type of savory lassi. You can even mix it with salted butter and black pepper and melt it over fresh sweet corn for a side dish.
Where to buy it (or make your own!):
You can buy amchur in most South Asian grocery stores and online. If you want to make your own, look for small, unripe green mangoes in Asian groceries. You can use a food dehydrator to dry these slices, and then blend them to a fine powder in a spice blender.
How to store it:
Once ground, you can store the amchur for up to a year in an airtight container—ideally in a cool, dark place.