Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Amba - tangy Iraqi mango pickle condiment

Middle Eastern food has found its way onto the shelves of every corner shop and into the hearts of everyone I know. And I mean everyone: I can't even remember a picnic that didn't feature several tubs of hummus and tzatziki has actually become a Christmas dinner staple!

While everyone can tell their harissa from hummus and tzatziki from tahina, not many are familiar with the greatness of amba. Like everything else in Middle East, its exact origins are often debated, though it is likely it originated in Iraq. With Iraqi Jews it has become a staple in Israeli street food, too, and you see it being served with shawarma, falafel and sabich (another Iraqi specialty) - a sandwich stuffed with hard-boiled eggs and fried eggplant. 

Another thing that is totally best friends with it is meorav yerushalmi. What is that, you ask? Wait til tomorrow and you'll have it on the blog!

Where harissa has often been dubbed as the ketchup of Middle East, sweet and tangy amba is the mustard. You can leave the mango in cubes for pickle-like consistency or you can whizz it into a dressing. It's equally versatile both ways: use it sandwiches, as a dip, serve with fish or meat... or just lick it straight off the jar.

Southern Asia has their own take on this called achar and why wouldn't it - India is where mangos originally came from. If you want to hear more about just how seriously they take their mangos there, just click here...

Amba is also a convenient in that the mangos don't need to be ripe (which they rarely ever are in these parts of the world...). The exact amount of sugar depends on the ripeness of your mangos (mine weren't ripe). The exact quantity of water depends on whether you want to puree your amba. In case you want to leave them in cubes, just add a little water at a time to make sure it won't burn. 

The longest versions of amba I've seen take days to make. The ultimate shortcut would be to just blizz or dice a ripe mango and combine it with a little bit or harissa and lemon juice. 

Black mustard seeds are available at ethnic or Indian shops. In case you can only get hold of those yellow ones, use them. They lack the kick of the black (look at me- an accidental freestyling champ!) , so you should double the amount given in the recipe. Instead of lemon you can also use lime. 

makes about 3-4 dl of pickle/ paste

Amba - tangy Iraqi mango pickle

a couple of tbsp of oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
2 small garlic cloves minced
1 small red chili, de-seeded and finely chopped
2/3 tsp ground cumin
2/3 tsp fenugreek seeds, ground
2/3 tsp sumac
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tso turmeric
2 mangos, peeled and diced
juice of a lemon
2 tbsp brown sugar
1- 1,5 dl water
1 tsp salt
1 tsp white vinegar (or more lemon or lime juice) 

Heat oil in a pot. Add mustard seeds and wait til they start crackling (keep an eye on them to avoid burning them). Add garlic, chili, spices, chopped up mango and lemon juice. Stir and add sugar. Let it melt and then add water. Simmer over moderate heat, covered, until mango cubes have softened. Check the taste and add salt. 

Puree (if desired) check the taste and adjust the taste with vinegar, sugar or more salt.

And hey, if the sweetness of mango combined with seductive little kick is right up your street, you'll also like this mango, chili and ginger chicken and this crayfish dressing!




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