A Premature Taste of Summer: Ottolengthi’s Mango & Coconut Rice Salad

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We’ve leaped over an important milestone this week: the midpoint of winter. By definition, “meteorological winter” encompasses the three coldest months of the year: December, January, and February. “Astronomical winter” stretches from the winter solstice on December 21 and lasts until around March 19. And while there is an ongoing debate surrounding the true duration of winter, I’ll go with the former to maintain my sanity. For summer enthusiasts like myself, January and February can be rather dire months. They are ensconced in the absolute dead of winter and in what is seemingly the slowest time of the year. January marks a return to normalcy, as the holidays have abruptly concluded. New Year’s resolution plights are in full force and there just doesn’t seem to be as much as do as far as general activity is concerned. There are only so many movies to see, winter walks to take, and books to read. These sentiments need not apply to my friends living in Los Angeles.

Now that I’m completely burnt out on dessert from the holidays, I’m shifting my attention to focus on more fruits, vegetables, and salads. Oranges, grapefruits, and clementines are an excellent way to get a boost of vitamins and fiber alike, particularly in the winter. My association with eating oranges also brings me back to my formative years on the soccer field, as (one of) the highlights of games was the consumption of sliced oranges at halftime. Not much has changed as an adult, as my life still revolves around food musings as well as plotting when I’m going to eat next. Mango, while not a citrus fruit, also possesses similar characteristics to that of the orange. This tropical fruit yields Vitamins C & A as well as a variety of necessary minerals that the body needs to function. As Yotam Ottolengthi notes in this recipe taken from Plenty, “the undisputed king of mangoes is the Indian Alphonso. It is intensely sweet and has an unbeatable perfumed aroma. The season though, is very short – mid-April to the end of May – so try to prepare this salad then.”

While I am a stark proponent of eating foods that pair with their given season, sometimes I just crave a summer dish like this mango and coconut rice salad. I find that with salads especially, I have to mix things up or I’m not as enticed to craft a salad, whether it be day-to-day or week-to-week.

The salad itself is chalk full with some of my favorite ingredients. Besides the large quantities of mango (never enough), there are two kinds of rice that serve as the base of this salad: jasmine/basmati and red rice. The basmati is cooked over a saucepan with butter, salt, water, and basil; whereas the red rice is cooked traditionally in a pot of boiling water. Mint and cilantro round out the triad of herbs, which delights me as these are amongst my absolute favorites. Scallions also provide an additional hit of flavor, as well as red chile and red pepper. The lemon juice and zest further enhance the flavors mentioned above. Salted peanuts and peanut oil is called for, almost as if Yotam knew to satisfy my peanut addiction by adding said components to the list. Flaked coconut (unsweetened) furthers the tropical nature of the salad. Shallots round out the extensive list of ingredients that make up this dish, but are not entirely necessary.

A couple things worth noting: I used frozen mango cubes, as mango is currently out of season. I also skipped a step and used raw, cut shallot atop the salad instead of frying or buying crisp-fried shallots. Because of the distinct flavor found in shallots, I felt the recipe would have been just as good by taking this route and method of preparation.

The next time I make this will certainly be in the late spring or summer. When doubled, this mango and coconut rice salad serves as a great contribution for any spring or summer shindig. It’s also a beautiful looking concoction to boot. I am getting better at embracing the winter months and what the season has to offer, but I will always be a staunch supporter of spring and summer, first and foremost. If you find yourself stuck in state comprised of the winter blues, remember: winter is over halfway over. Enjoy, folks.

Mango & Coconut Rice Salad
Taken from Yotam Ottolengthi’s Plenty
Serves 4

2/3 cup jasmine or basmati rice
1 tsp. unsalted butter
1/2 cup water
1 cup loosely packed (Thai) basil
1 cup Camargue red rice
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. mint leaves, roughly chopped
2/3 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
scallions, thinly sliced
1 fresh red chile, seeded and finely chopped
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 large mango or 2 bags of frozen mango, thawed for at least 3 1/2 hours
1/2 cup roasted salted peanuts, roughly chopped
2/3 cup flaked coconut
2 tbsp. peanut oil
3/4 cup crisp-fried shallots, homemade or bought (optional)

Start by cooking the rice. Put the jasmine rice and butter in a small saucepan and place on medium heat. Add a little salt, the water and half the Thai basil (keep the leaves attached to the stalk). Bring to a boil, then cover and cook on a slow simmer for 15-20 minutes. Remove and discard the basil. Spread out the rice on a flat tray or plate to cool down.

Cook the red rice in plenty of boiling water (as you would cook pasta with no salt) for 20 minutes, or until it is cooked through. Drain and spread on a tray to cool down.

Pick off the leaves of the remaining basil and chop them up roughly. Place them in a large mixing bowl. Add the jasmine and red rice together with all the remaining ingredients, apart from the shallots, and stir just to mix; do not stir too much or the mango pieces with disintegrate. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Transfer the salad into serving bowls and garnish with crisp-fried shallots, if you like.

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