Lifestyle

Mangoes add lusciousness to spring holiday meals

With Passover beginning at sundown on the 18th and Easter that same week on the 24th, I was thinking of ways to create holiday dishes using a special ingredient almost everyone enjoys eating. It didn’t take very long before the tropical mango fruit crossed my mind. With its sweet, slightly tart flavor and juicy smooth texture, the luscious mango can be used to enhance a variety of dishes. Mangoes also have the health benefits of being rich in beta-carotene, potassium, fiber, vitamins C and A, as well as containing a lot of digestive enzymes. Don’t you just love it when something so delicious is good for you, too!

With the mango’s thick skin and large flat pit, it can be somewhat of a challenge to peel and cut. A technique that works the best for me is to first cut it in lengthwise sections (prior to peeling), slicing across the top of the pit to remove, then slice to separate the pulp from the peel. Be sure to choose a ripe mango that isn’t overly ripe or it will be too mushy for anything other than to puree — just as one not ripe enough will be distastefully tart to the point of being inedible.

During the Jewish holiday of Passover, regular wheat flour is not used. I’ve created the crust for this mango cheesecake from egg matzoh, with the addition of unsweetened coconut and macadamia nuts to bump up its tropical twist. Cheesecake is a surprisingly easy dessert to prepare, even for a novice baker. I encourage those of you who are baking-intimidated to give it a try.

The filling of this cheesecake is a recipe from Bon Appetit magazine and the basil lemon syrup sauce is from chef Giada DeLaurentiis. Although it wasn’t called for, I like to add a layer of sour cream over the top of cheesecakes for the added dimension of taste and texture — plus, it’s a great way to conceal any flaws like cracks, which just happen from time-to-time to most of us.

Mango Cheesecake for Passover with Basil Lemon Syrup

Serves 10 to 12

Ingredients for crust:

4 egg matzohs (kosher for Passover)

½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut

½ cup macadamia nuts

3 tablespoons sugar

½ cube of butter or margarine (unsalted and melted)

Ingredients for filling:

3 large very ripe mangoes (pitted, pealed and coarsely chopped)

3 8-ounce containers of cream cheese (at room temperature)

1¼ cups plus 2 extra tablespoons granulated sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 large eggs (at room temperature)

8 ounce container of sour cream

Ingredients for sauce:

1 cup granulated sugar

¼ cup water

¼ cup lemon juice (freshly squeezed)

1 packed cup fresh basil leaves

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees with the rack placed in the middle. Lightly butter a 9-inch springform pan with 2¾-inch sides. Begin preparing the crust by breaking up the matzoh into small pieces; place in a food processor with the shredded coconut, macadamia nuts and sugar; process until evenly ground. Pour that mixture into a bowl and stir in the melted butter until thoroughly moistened; transfer into the baking pan. Using the flat bottom of a glass or measuring cup, firmly press down the crumbs into the bottom, making sure it’s evenly covered. Bake the crust until set for about 11 minutes. Cool completely, while leaving the oven on the same temperature.

Wash out the food processor and puree the mango until completely smooth. Set aside 2 cups of the puree. Any that’s left over can be used for something else, like a smoothie or a topping for ice cream and yoghurt. Note: I actually found that 2 large mangoes produced the required 2 cups, but have an extra one on hand, just in case it’s needed.

In a small bowl, mix the sour cream with the 2 tablespoons of sugar; store in refrigerator until needed. This topping is optional, but adds a yummy layer between the cake and the sauce.

Once again, wash out and dry the food processor to process the cream cheese, the remaining 1¼ cups of the sugar and the vanilla until smooth and creamy, for about one minute. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the container with a spatula a few times to make sure everything mixes evenly. Crack the eggs one at a time into a small bowl (to make it easier to discard pieces of shell or a bad egg); pulse for 5 seconds after adding each egg. Add the 2 cups pureed mango and process for about 20 seconds until well blended, scraping down the sides so it’s evenly mixed. Pour the filling over the cooled crust.

Bake the cheesecake for about 1 hour and 25 minutes, until set and its edges are puffed and golden. The center of the cake may move slightly when the pan is gently shaken, which is perfectly fine and doesn’t mean it’s not done. Keep in mind: it will continue to set as it cools and chills over time; and time can’t be rushed. As soon as it’s out of the oven, carefully run a flexible, sharp knife between the side edges of the pan and the cake to loosen it, which will help prevent cracking as the cake contracts. Even if it cracks, you can hide the cracks with pieces of fruit or by covering with the sour cream topping. Cool the cake completely on a cooling rack for 1 to 2 hours and spread the sour cream mixture over the top before refrigerating overnight. Ideally, wait 24 hours before serving so it’s thoroughly chilled to set — a process that can’t be rushed for optimal results.

For the syrup, bring the sugar, water and lemon juice to a simmer in a small sauce pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Cook until the sugar is thoroughly dissolved. Cool enough so it’s barely warm to avoid heat discoloring the basil, then place in a blender or food processor with the basil until it’s blended as much as possible; store in the refrigerator until needed.

To serve, once again run a sharp knife between the cheesecake cake and the sides of the pan to loosen it even more before removing.

Transfer the cake (still on the bottom part of the pan) to a serving platter and pour the lemon basil syrup over the top and spread it evenly. Both the cheesecake and syrup sauce can be prepared a couple days prior to serving. The cheesecake also freezes well in its pan — just be sure to wrap it tightly with heavy aluminum foil.

Lamb is a wonderful main dish to serve for Easter dinner. Simply grilling some chops on the barbecue, then dressing them up with this delicious mango sauce, is a scrumptious way to go. Have the butcher cut the chops for you to get as even a cut as possible for perfect grilling.

Grilled Lamb Chops with Mango Sauce and Fresh Mint Leaves for Easter

Serves 6

Ingredients:

2 racks of lamb or a total of 12 chops (1¼ to 1½-inch thickness)

¼ cup of olive oil

Kosher salt

Fresh ground pepper

2 large ripe mangoes

2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lime juice

¼ cup honey

1/3 cup Mirin (sweet sake cooking wine found in the Asian section of the grocery store)

1 cup fresh mint leaves to garnish (chopped)

Directions: To prepare the sauce, peel, pit and cut the mango into pieces. Puree the mango in the food processor or blender. Place the pureed mango, lime juice, honey and Mirin in a medium sauce pan; cook on medium-high until it comes to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside or refrigerate up to a couple of days and reheat.

Run the chops well under cold water and pat dry. Rub each one on both sides with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Prior to grilling, bring the lamb to room temperature to avoid over charring and longer cooking time. Heat the grill on medium-high to get a good sear on the meat, which will seal in its juices. Keep the lid of the grill closed to cook evenly at 3 to 4 minutes per side for medium-rare and 5 to 6 minutes per side for medium, depending on the thickness of the chops. Only turn once (using a tong and not a fork), which would pierce the meat, causing valuable juices to escape. You can also test for doneness by touch: rare will feel like it does when you press down on the part of your palm that’s right below your thumb; medium-rare will feel like the center of your palm.

Be sure to let the chops rest for at least three minutes to allow juices to run down through the meat. To serve, pour some of sauce on the plate, place the chops on top, then drizzle a little more over them and garnish with the chopped fresh mint leaves.

Adding succulent sections of mango to this green side salad complements the other ingredients with a unique burst of flavor. I’ve chosen to use arugula in this salad, but feel free to substitute mixed baby greens or watercress — or use a blend of all three.

Arugula and Mango Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 cups baby arugala

¾ cup fresh basil leaves (coarsely chopped)

½ cup fresh mint leaves (coarsely chopped)

1 large avocado

1 large ripe mango

¾ cup sliced toasted almonds

1/3 cups olive or hazelnut oil

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup goat cheese (crumbled)

Directions:

Slice, peel and cut the avocado and mango into bite-sized pieces. Thoroughly stir the oil with the vinegar and salt; adjust to your preferred taste. Place the arugula, basil, mint, avocado, mango and toasted almonds in a large bowl and gently toss with some of the dressing — not all of it at once, to avoid over dressing. Sprinkle the top with crumbled goat cheese.

Enjoy! And have a very enjoyable and meaningful Passover and Easter.

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