Food

From prawn curries to fasting food, how Indians eat their mangoes (and have them too)

As we add mango to innovative dishes, we are also becoming distant from the rich culinary heritage around it.

The price of Indian summer is weighed in mangoes. There is little respite from the sweltering heat from the unforgiving temperatures of Delhi and Lucknow to the coastal humidity of Kerala and Goa. The only saving grace is the glorious mango.

India grows over a thousand varieties of mangoes, from Varanasi’s tangy langras, to the intensely sweet dussheri of Lucknow, and the satiny Alphonsos of Ratnagiri. Every year, the country is consumed by debate, divided over their preferences of mango varieties. Each year, we dissect flavour, aroma, fibre and versatility as we consume and gift mangoes. And every year, as we add mango to innovative dishes and desserts, we also become distant from the rich culinary heritage around it.

In Kerala, for instance, small ant-mangoes are used to make mambazham pulisseri, a cooling yogurt-based gravy made with coconut, shallots and chillies and spices. Tangy and sweet, it is eaten with neichor or a simple meal of rice and ghee, especially during Lent when the Christian community abstains from meat. Another old-time Lent staple that has been missing from modern kitchens is mango mappas. Isha Joseph, a home chef from Piravom, says that while it is normally made with chicken or beef, the meat is substituted with sour raw mango during Lent, in a thick, coconut-based gravy with aromatic spices usually reserved only for meat curries. Another mango preparation that is slowly disappearing, perhaps because it is so labour- and time-intensive, involves stuffing a whole mango.

Kathija Hashim shared instructions on how to do it at home: “Raw, fleshy mangoes are sliced through the middle without fully separating the halves. The seed is removed and the mango is steamed gently before its cavity is stuffed with a spice mix of coriander, cumin, fenugreek, pepper and chilli. The two cheeks are then re-joined and secured with twine, left out to dry in the sun until it turns entirely black. The dried mango is then eaten with curd and rice, much like a chammandi or condiment.”

Mom made mango curry :) #mangocurry

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Photo credit: rohithjs/Instagram

Given its coastline, Kerala pairs mango with seafood in quick and easy prawn and fish curries throughout the arduous summer months. The recipe below serves four, and tastes better the next day.

Ingredients

250 gm prawn or shrimp, deveined
1 medium-sized raw mango (the sour variety), cubed into 1-inch pieces
2 ½ tsp red chilli powder
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp coriander powder
200 ml coconut milk first pressing
60 ml coconut milk, second pressing
6 shallots, sliced
½ tsp fenugreek seeds
½ inch fresh ginger, chopped
4 green chillies, slit
½ tsp Mustard seeds
2 tbsp coconut oil
A handful of curry leaves
Salt to taste

Method

Heat the oil in an earthenware pot or chatti on medium flame.
Add mustard seeds, and as they splutter, add in the fenugreek seeds, curry leaves, green chilli, shallots and ginger in quick succession.
Sauté until the shallots are brown.
Add a bit of water to the spice powders (red chilli, turmeric and coriander) to make a paste, and pour into the chatti, sautéing gently. (If it seems dry, add enough coconut milk from the second pressing to create a loose paste).
Add salt to taste at this stage.
Add the cubed mango and prawns.
As soon as the prawns turn translucent, pour in the first coconut milk.
As soon as it comes to a boil, take it off the heat.
Serve hot with rice.

Prawn Mango Curry. Photo credit: Nita Abbey/Wikimedia Commons [Licensed under CC BY 4.0]
Prawn Mango Curry. Photo credit: Nita Abbey/Wikimedia Commons [Licensed under CC BY 4.0]

In Karnataka, mango rasam is made with jaggery, spices, and a green mango on the brink of ripening. It is served with rice, but also enjoyed on its own as a bright summer soup. Mango dal is another cherished recipe. A favourite with Gujaratis and Parsis, raw mango is boiled with either masoor or tuvar dal to make for a tangy summer side to rice or roti. (The Parsis, in typical fashion, even put an egg on it). In Tamil Nadu, where the sambar is a melting pot of every vegetable in season, mangoes are thrown into the party too.

Revati Gangal, an artist from Mumbai, describes a Maharashtrian delicacy from the Konkan region called ansa-phansachi bhaji that is sweet, sour and spicy, made with jackfruit, mangoes and pineapple. “Of course, there is also the much-loved amba poli, or dried mango preserve, that involves the laborious process of manually grinding the pulp, and then leaving it out to dry in the sun for days on end.”

Ghotan Sansav, Goan style Ripe Mango Curry. Photo credit: Foodienfabulous/Facebook.com
Ghotan Sansav, Goan style Ripe Mango Curry. Photo credit: Foodienfabulous/Facebook.com

Mango achars, pickles, chutneys and raitas are still made in kitchens around the country, each region incorporating its local ingredients and favoured spice mixes, from coconut to kokum and curry leaves. In Bengal, the traditional recipe for aam kasundi uses raw mango with mustard seeds and mustard oil, blended with garlic, turmeric and chillies and is usually prefaced with a puja, as is customary in the preparation of kasundi. Many families like to leave the mango still chunky in the pulp, covering it with muslin and leaving it to dry in the sunlight for a few days before it is refrigerated.

In Punjab and Delhi, the mango is famously savoured after a meal, cold from the refrigerator, paired with nothing more than a cup of yoghurt to counter the heat-inducing dangers of excessive mango consumption. The pleasure of “secret eating” is one that is familiar to anyone that has tasted a mango: peeling back the skin, carving quarters, or simply slicing the cheeks and sinking your teeth into the juicy flesh, skin and all, juices running down the length of your arms, leaving you sticky but satisfied.

In a country where legends of the mango abound, where the Mughals poured milk and treacle around the mango tree in the promise of sweet fruition, it would be nothing less than tragic to lose such diversity of traditional regional recipes.

Amba Khatta-Green mango pieces tempered and cooked in a jaggery base, works as a very good accompaniment with rice. Photo credit: Swetapadma07/Wikimedia Commons [Licensed under CC BY 3.0]
Amba Khatta-Green mango pieces tempered and cooked in a jaggery base, works as a very good accompaniment with rice. Photo credit: Swetapadma07/Wikimedia Commons [Licensed under CC BY 3.0]
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Removing the layers of complexity that weigh down mental health in rural India

Patients in rural areas of the country face several obstacles to get to treatment.

Two individuals, with sombre faces, are immersed in conversation in a sunlit classroom. This image is the theme across WHO’s 2017 campaign ‘Depression: let’s talk’ that aims to encourage people suffering from depression or anxiety to seek help and get assistance. The fact that depression is the theme of World Health Day 2017 indicates the growing global awareness of mental health. This intensification of the discourse on mental health unfortunately coincides with the global rise in mental illness. According to the latest estimates from WHO, more than 300 million people across the globe are suffering from depression, an increase of 18% between 2005 and 2015.

In India, the National Mental Health Survey of India, 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) revealed the prevalence of mental disorders in 13.7% of the surveyed population. The survey also highlighted that common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. Perhaps the most crucial finding from this survey is the disclosure of a huge treatment gap that remains very high in our country and even worse in rural areas.

According to the National Mental Health Programme, basic psychiatric care is mandated to be provided in every primary health centre – the state run rural healthcare clinics that are the most basic units of India’s public health system. The government provides basic training for all primary health centre doctors, and pays for psychiatric medication to be stocked and available to patients. Despite this mandate, the implementation of mental health services in rural parts of the country continues to be riddled with difficulties:

Attitudinal barriers

In some rural parts of the country, a heavy social stigma exists against mental illness – this has been documented in many studies including the NIMHANS study mentioned earlier. Mental illness is considered to be the “possession of an evil spirit in an individual”. To rid the individual of this evil spirit, patients or family members rely on traditional healers or religious practitioners. Lack of awareness on mental disorders has led to further strengthening of this stigma. Most families refuse to acknowledge the presence of a mental disorder to save themselves from the discrimination in the community.

Lack of healthcare services

The average national deficit of trained psychiatrists in India is estimated to be 77% (0.2 psychiatrists per 1,00,000 population) – this shows the scale of the problem across rural and urban India. The absence of mental healthcare infrastructure compounds the public health problem as many individuals living with mental disorders remain untreated.

Economic burden

The scarcity of healthcare services also means that poor families have to travel great distances to get good mental healthcare. They are often unable to afford the cost of transportation to medical centres that provide treatment.

After focussed efforts towards awareness building on mental health in India, The Live Love Laugh Foundation (TLLLF), founded by Deepika Padukone, is steering its cause towards understanding mental health of rural India. TLLLF has joined forces with The Association of People with Disability (APD), a non-governmental organisation working in the field of disability for the last 57 years to work towards ensuring quality treatment for the rural population living with mental disorders.

APD’s intervention strategy starts with surveys to identify individuals suffering from mental illnesses. The identified individuals and families are then directed to the local Primary Healthcare Centres. In the background, APD capacity building programs work simultaneously to create awareness about mental illnesses amongst community workers (ASHA workers, Village Rehabilitation Workers and General Physicians) in the area. The whole complex process involves creating the social acceptance of mental health conditions and motivating them to approach healthcare specialists.

Participants of the program.
Participants of the program.

When mental health patients are finally free of social barriers and seeking help, APD also mobilises its network to make treatments accessible and affordable. The organisation coordinates psychiatrists’ visits to camps and local healthcare centres and ensures that the necessary medicines are well stocked and free medicines are available to the patients.

We spent a lot of money for treatment and travel. We visited Shivamogha Manasa and Dharwad Hospital for getting treatment. We were not able to continue the treatment for long as we are poor. We suffered economic burden because of the long- distance travel required for the treatment. Now we are getting quality psychiatric service near our village. We are getting free medication in taluk and Primary Healthcare Centres resulting in less economic stress.

— A parent's experience at an APD treatment camp.

In the two years TLLLF has partnered with APD, 892 and individuals with mental health concerns have been treated in the districts of Kolar, Davangere, Chikkaballapur and Bijapur in Karnataka. Over 4620 students participated in awareness building sessions. TLLLF and APD have also secured the participation of 810 community health workers including ASHA workers in the mental health awareness projects - a crucial victory as these workers play an important role in spreading awareness about health. Post treatment, 155 patients have resumed their previous occupations.

To mark World Mental Health Day, 2017, a team from TLLLF lead by Deepika Padukone visited program participants in the Davengere district.

Sessions on World Mental Health Day, 2017.
Sessions on World Mental Health Day, 2017.

In the face of a mental health crisis, it is essential to overcome the treatment gap present across the country, rural and urban. While awareness campaigns attempt to destigmatise mental disorders, policymakers need to make treatment accessible and cost effective. Until then, organisations like TLLLF and APD are doing what they can to create an environment that acknowledges and supports people who live with mental disorders. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.