Saffron Mango Lassi Recipe

The flavour of tropical fruit entered my life in the form of a 200ml tetra-pack brick with a folded straw attached to it. It was a valuable and exotic alternative to the most classic flavours: pear, or peach. Extremely popular in the 1990s, tropical fruit juice saw it’s glory shaded by the newcomer ACE, a blend of orange, lemon and carrot – presumably containing vitamins of the same name. It was my to-go snack at school (la merenda) since my tenderest age, alongside a package of crackers.

I am not sure why tropical fruit juice was my favourite flavour. Perhaps it was its novelty to strike me, or its hardly recognizable identity – what kind of fruit was it made of? In the picture on the package there was a pineapple, but the rest? What was it called? I had no idea, and besides, I hadn’t even tasted a real pineapple on its own before. Banana was the most foreign fruit I had access to.

For years, tropical fruit has remained a mystery to me, and I often had the names messed up – papaya for passion fruit and so forth. At one point, though, things started to become a tad clearer, when experienced tropical fruit in the form of ice cream – pineapple and mango had become pretty common flavours by the end of the 20th century, even in the small town in the middle of nowhere Veneto. People travel, right?

Right. The plain truth is, I never had a real craving for it – people hardly desire what they don’t know. Until now. In the all-mighty economy of the capital, where thousands of individual demands meet the offer of the market, where all nationalities and all cultures collide – in a city which couldn’t feel and be further from the tropics, I have started to eat tropical fruit. The actual fruit.

My love story with avocado has been revealed already. Yet, a part of me felt like there was still space for one more, just to make my carbon footprint even. It happened a few months ago, when J opened the door, back from work, with a yellow box in hand. He had finally been able to go into that Iranian shop near work, he announced, and he couldn’t resist the sight of the newly arrived Alfonso mangoes that were neatly piled into boxes and kept apart by shredded paper -treated like precious, fragile objects. He bought 10 so that he could have the box to carry them, asking in change to have some ready to eat and some greener ones for good measure.

I had one that same night. It had the most intensely floral, sugary flavour I have ever found in a fruit, ever. It tasted of sunscreen and hot days on the shore – in the best possible way. Juice running down my forearm, I was unshamilgly licking my fingers, sucking every bit from the mid stone, and silently begging for more… But then, I thought, I had to pause myself to prolong and re-live the pleasure in the following days. After eating mangoes straight from the fruit bowl sitting on the table for a few nights, fruit as sweet as cake, needing nothing added to it, J suggested us making lassi. To which, I responded: a what? Only later did I remember that night at the Bombay Cafe downtown – I had ordered a savoury mango lassi as a drink to go along the cornucopia of beautifully spiced dishes on the menu.

One Saturday morning, then, I made my own, not savoury but still unsweetened. I am not sure with what logic I added these spices, but my instinct told me to follow the way of cardamom and saffron, the first to add a hint of extra exoticism, the other to enhance the sunny, bright yellow hue of the pureed mango. I was trusting that the sweetness of the fruit and the creaminess of the final result were going to be forgiving towards these additions. In fact, both spices not only blended in perfectly, but also gave this lassi a novel depth of flavour, a second layer of aromas, which made it particularly attractive to my senses.

Now, whenever I feel I need a little extra-boost of energy, whenever my senses are dormant and need awaken, I bring home a mango after work, usually on a Friday, and get the blender going. No tropical juice from a tetra pack will ever be drank again.

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