Food for Thought
Spicy Thirst Destruction
A homemade paleta that’s perfect for spring
I ordered my first mangoneada because I thought it sounded vaguely like mango-lemonade, which seemed perfect on a warm day. Better Spanish speakers may have realized the word refers to an unscrupulous use of power, like graft or bribery. With my first slurp I began to see why. Mangoneadas are powerful and desirable. On a sunny day, you could bribe Satan with one.
A mangoneada consists of a mango popsicle and a dipping sauce of red chile powder, salt, lime juice and sugar. The sweet, caustic solution resides in a cup and is reapplied between slurps. Altogether, the mangoneada is at once too sweet, too spicy, too bitter, too sour and too salty. But these intense flavors somehow manage to play brilliantly together. The chile demands sweetness, which is improved by sourness, which likes salt, which goes great with chile. It's like a game of rock-paper-scissors in your mouth.
As the popsicle thaws, it softens around the edges and becomes increasingly impregnated with the red syrup. Chunks break off in your mouth to expose a bright mango core. It looks like a sunset, tastes like a hot day at the beach and makes you a little crazy.
I first encountered the mangoneada at a paletería, a kind of Mexican popsicle emporium that can be found throughout the Southwest. They serve a bewildering array of fruity and creamy popsicles, called paletas, as well as other treats. Rough-looking dudes can be seen smiling like kids. There's often someone selling sunglasses and pirated DVDs in the parking lot.
It's like a game of rock-paper-scissors in your mouth.
The most authentic mangoneadas will contain chamoy, a Mexican syrup made from pickled fruit. But real chamoy is rare these days, and some bottled chamoy don't even contain pickled fruit. You'll find some alternatives in my recipe.
One average-size mango blended with a cup of water will make an ice cube tray's worth of mango popsicle. Remove the flesh from a mango, cut it into cubes, add the fruit to a blender along with a cup or two of water. The second cup makes the popsicles more hydrating and stretches your mango supply. For each cup of water, add a tablespoon each of sugar and lime. Blend, then pour the puree into popsicle cups. After one to two hours in the freezer, insert popsicle sticks and allow to freeze completely.
At serving time, remove the popsicles from the cups. For each popsicle, combine a teaspoon each of sugar and red chile powder (mild to hot, depending on the person) and a big pinch of salt. Stir in a tablespoon of fresh lime juice. This sauce can be made ahead of time in large quantities, or mixed individually in each popsicle cup, allowing the mangoneada-maker to adjust for preferences in heat and sweetness.
The hot, sour, salty and sweet flavors of a mangoneada are in good company. Asian cuisine is often described in terms of the interplay of these very flavors.
Add a tablespoon or two of sauce to each cup, depending on the size of the popsicle, and, optionally, a teaspoon or two of real chamoy, if you can get it. Replace the popsicle in its cup. It is now a mangoneada.
If you can't find real chamoy and want that acidic, fruity sourness in your mangoneada, there are some alternatives. A fine store-bought solution is the sour orange marinade you can find in Caribbean food markets. Even better, make tamarind syrup like they do in some parts of Mexico. Soak 1/4 cup of dry or brick tamarind in 3/4 cups of warm water for about an hour (heat the water to speed the process). Stir and mash it around, and then filter out the seeds and skin. Over a low flame, reduce the tamarind water by about 80 percent, then let it cool. Use it as you would chamoy, adding a teaspoon or so to the chile sauce.
The hot, sour, salty and sweet flavors of a mangoneada are in good company. Asian cuisine is often described in terms of the interplay of these very flavors. The same ingredients can also be found in other good dishes, such as a bowl of freshly cut mango chunks sprinkled with chile and salt, spritzed with lime, and followed with a squirt of chamoy or tamarind. Alternatively, these ingredients can all go into the blender together with ice and perhaps tequila. If making a blended drink, add the chile powder last, a bit at a time, tasting as you go.
Among such variations on this brilliant flavor equation, the mangoneada remains in a league by itself. The use of dipping to control the flavor mix, the changing conditions as the popsicle melts, and the visual spectacle of the bright colors contrasting and blending—they all conspire for a singular experience. On a warm day, a mangoneada will command your attention completely as it quickly disappears. It is the tension and the resolution, the problem and the solution, the extortion and the bribe, in every slurp.