Sweet Ripe Mangoes in Thick Creamy Milk
Bangladeshi Aamer Pona
I look forward to summer for so many reasons – picnics, beach-time, lazy warm nights outdoors, light lovely summer dresses, rosé… and mangoes! Also known as the king of fruits. Delicious sweet juicy mangoes of certain varieties, that when perfectly ripe – have the most amazing flavor and scent.
While mangoes are generally available in New York all year round, the tastiest mangoes arrive in summer. Stores and fruit cart vendors have mangoes from Mexico, Haiti, Jamaica, and sometimes even India. But sadly no mangoes from Bangladesh, yet. I still dream of the delicious mangoes from my childhood in Bangladesh.
My mom’s side of the family had mango and lychee plantations in the northwest of the country, in the district known as Rajshahi. During the summers for three months, each month a couple of massive trucks filled with baskets of thousands of mangoes would arrive at my grandmother’s house in Dhaka for us all to eat (the countless rest were sold of course, but as children we only knew about the ones that we saw). There would be at least half a dozen varieties among the thousands of mangoes that would be dropped off, and our favorite was the “langra” mango – the tastiest, most heavenly mango I’ve ever had. I don’t really know how to describe the incredible magical taste of the small little langras – all I can say is while the tastiest mango I’ve been able to buy in NY is really quite delicious, it still doesn’t come even one-hundredth as close to the langra. Sigh….
Of course there was no way we could consume thousands of mangoes all by ourselves in a few weeks, only to have thousands more arrive the following month. So we gifted them to our relatives and friends, while keeping a reasonable amount for ourselves. The tastiest of the mangoes, the langras, we would peel and eat directly, biting deep into the sweet juicy non-fibrous flesh. That was definitely the best way to eat langras. The slightly less tasty ones (still utterly delicious) would be cut up into dainty little cubes and we’d pick up a few at a time with a fork and pop them in our mouths. The really huge fibrous mangoes that would arrive toward the end of the mango season were rather bland in comparison and the least tasty; these would be dried in the sun or even pickled. But when desperate we would eat these too, though after the weeks of daily gorging on mangoes we were usually satiated of our mango-lust by then. Unfortunately, the large-sized mangoes sold here in NYC are more akin to the end-of-season bland mangoes from my childhood; but now since I can’t find anything tastier, I enjoy even these.
With the crazy quantities of mangoes my mom found other ways for us to eat them too. We would help her make mango “ice-cream” – we’d fill the ice-cube trays in the freezer with mango milkshake and freeze them. We’d take out the frozen cubes the next day and slowly suck on them in the heat of the afternoon, sitting under the whirring ceiling fan, feeling the cold delicious milky-mango ices melt in our mouths. Aah, that was bliss.
There was also a proper dessert my mom would make with the sweet tasty mangoes. This was simple to make, but so utterly mouth-wateringly fantastic that we would lick the spoons and bowls clean. It was an adult dessert too, my mom would serve it to guests and also make it for parties and dinner gatherings at our house. It was always a hit with everyone. My mom called it “aamer pona”. Aam is the Bengali word for mangoes, and “aamer” translates to “of mangoes”. However, I haven’t come across this dessert outside our household ever, though I’m guessing some other Bangladeshis must make it too.
It’s basically ripe sweet mangoes cut into small cubes, left to sit in thickened creamy milk. The whole process takes about 2 hours, but the active time is about 20 minutes (the majority of the time is spent waiting for the milk to boil down over low heat and thicken into a dense creamy texture).
The flavor is so utterly fantastic that no one believes how easy it is to make. It’s the perfect dessert for the heat of the summer. The mango itself is cooling and despite the creaminess of the milk, it’s a light dessert. The thick creaminess comes from simply boiling down the milk and reducing the water content – the level of milk-fat doesn’t increase. It’s much healthier than adding something like heavy cream (which would be overwhelming and ruin the taste). If you must cut corners to make this, and I admit I myself cheat sometimes when I want to make it quickly as an afterthought, after dinner – then just take regular whole milk and add condensed milk to it. Trust me, the cheat version is nowhere close to as tasty, but it’s okay as a 5-minute afterthought version.
The “aamer pona” can be served warm or left to cool in the fridge for a couple of hours and served cold. It’s delicious both ways. If you are cooling it just be aware that the mangoes will lose the vibrant orange color after sitting in the fridge, but it will develop more flavor as a result. I love it cold in the heat of the summer. For decorative purposes, you can save half an unpeeled mango, and add the fresh mango cubes on top before serving.
Sweet Ripe Mangoes in Thick Creamy Milk (Aamer Pona)
- 1/2 gallon (about 8 cups) whole milk, boiled down to 3 cups
- 4 ripe mangoes
- 4 heaped teaspoons sugar (or to taste)
The mangoes should be ripe; it’s better to pick overly ripe and soft ones, rather than the less ripe & hard. If you can’t find ripe mangoes, get whatever comes close, and let them sit out on the kitchen counter for a couple of days, they’ll ripen over time.
Mangoes with better flavor usually have a scent, even when unpeeled. Smell the top of the mango where the stem would be, it should have a nice mango-ey scent. Also the smaller varieties of mangoes that are greenish-yellow in color (from Haiti usually), have more flavor usually than the big reddish mangoes.
- Heat the milk in a large, deep pot over high heat for a few minutes until it starts to boil. Reduce the heat to low, and boil for about an hour and half. Stir from time to time, so that the milk doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot and burn, or boil over (if you have it on over low heat in a deep pot it shouldn’t boil over).
- Milk skin will form as it’s boiling; stir this in. This will help absorb the flavor of the mangoes and give the delicious flavor. When the milk has boiled down to about one-third the original volume, remove from heat. It should be thick in consistency.
- As the milk is boiling and reducing, peel and cut the mangoes into small cubes. The easiest way to cut the mango is to vertically slice across the mango in half along each side of the seed. Then make 3 long vertical slices across each half, and then slice across horizontally, till you get cubes.
- Take a bowl that’s large enough to hold the mangoes and milk, and transfer the mango cubes to the bowl. For the flesh that remains on the mango seeds, slice off and cut into small cubish pieces – they don’t need to be perfect. If you get soft pulpy bits, add this into the bowl, the juice and pulp are wonderful in flavoring the milk.
- Add the thickened reduced milk to the bowl. Add sugar, mix throughly. Taste to make sure it’s sweet enough; if you need more sugar, add a spoon at a time till the sweetness is to your liking (if the mangoes are not sweet enough, you’ll need more sugar).
- Let it sit for at least 30 minutes before serving. The longer it sits, the more flavor it will absorb. If you want to serve it cold, cover the bowl and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours.
As I noted above, the mangoes will discolor if it’s sitting in the milk overnight. If you want to prepare this for a party you can boil and prepare the milk the day before, and add the mangoes on the morning of the party so it will still have a nice color and will also have enough time to absorb the flavor. To get the pretty fresh mango effect, save half an unpeeled mango for cubing and adding at the end before serving.