Your guide to the food and culture of the tropics

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3 Must-Try Tropical Cocktails for Summer

One of my favorite things about Mexico is that the country is hung in a state of perpetual summer: great weather all year round and watermelons are always in season.

Yes, thats right. Watermelons are always in season in Mexico. The succulent, guilt-free treat that many of us only enjoy during the summer months is a year-long favorite in Mexico, often incorporated into drinks to help rehydrate and nourish the body.

Even though Mexico has adopted watermelon as its own, the fruit actually originated from Africa, where tomb paintings in Egypt have depicted the fruit going back 5,000 years.

Gathered together here are a collection of tropical fruit drinks all have a similar history. While the fruits these cocktails celebrate are icons in their regions, they all originated in different places.

Just like the watermelons that came from Africa to Mexico in the early 1600s, mangoes were introduced to the region from India around the same time. And even though pineapples are indigenous to Brazil, they came to Caribbean before the time of Columbus in 1493, where his sailors gorged on the fruit and used it to prevent scurvy on their long journeys to and from Europe.  

Today we may not be preventing scurvy, but these favorite-fruit-imports are to here to help us stay refreshed all summer long- no matter where we may be!

 

Watermelon Mint Agua Fresca

Agua fresca, or fresh water, is a popular Mexican drink that consists of water, fruit, and a little bit of sugar. They are generally non-alcoholic and not overly sweet, so its a great way to cool down during the summer months. (Also a great mocktailfor the kids! Not too much sugar and delicious equals a healthy alternative to soda and sugary fruit drinks!)

You will see gallons of agua fresca in restaurants all across Latin America with different flavors available. Dont like watermelon? Mango, orange, and strawberries can also be substituted (or added!) to this heavenly drink.

Want to turn this into an adult summer cocktail? Try adding a shot of tequila or rum to each glass and serve over ice.

Watermelon Mint Aque Fresca
 
Ingredients
  • ¼th of a watermelon, approximately 2 pounds
  • 1 cup water
  • Lime juice squeezed from two limes
  • 10 mint ten leaves
  • 1 tablespoon agave nectar (optional)
Instructions
  1. Bring water to a boil over medium-heat.
  2. Remove from heat, add the mint leaves. Let steep for 10 minutes until flavor has infused the water.
  3. Blend all ingredients and serve over ice.
 

 

Pineapple Passion Fruit Mojito

The mojito was born in Havana, Cuba and is typically made up of five ingredients: rum, lime, mint, sugar, and club soda. Its a popular summertime drink because its crisp and refreshing, and comparatively low in alcohol content. Its simple, delicious, and can please just about anyone.

But if you want a truly memorable cocktail thats fruity, yet classic, try infusing pineapple and passionfruit into your next mojito. The fresh fruit and pineapple juice will add enough sweetness that you wont need to use additional sugar! We think this is a drink that even Hemingway would approve.

Pineapple Passion Fruit Mojito
 
Ingredients
  • 1 pineapple, peeled, cored and chopped into chunks
  • 50ml can of pineapple juice
  • 10 fresh mint leaves
  • 4 limes, sliced
  • 4 shots of light rum
  • 4 passionfruit, seeds and pulp removed
  • 2 liters club soda
  • ice, to serve
  • lime slices, to serve
  • fresh mint, to serve
Instructions
  1. Put the pineapple and pineapple juice in the blender. Blend on high until you have a smooth puree.
  2. To make the mojito, press the pineapple puree, passion fruit, mint and lime together with the bottom of a spoon. Try not to cut up the mint so much, you just want to crush it a bit to infuse with the fruit and lime.
  3. Pour ⅓ cup of the mixture in the bottom of each glass.
  4. Add ice on top of the mixture.
  5. Add enough soda water so that it fills the glass.
  6. Add fresh mint and a lime wedge to serve.
 

Mango Ginger Margarita

There is a point during every summer when the heat becomes unbearable. We find ourselves almost wishing it was winter again just so that we could find relief from the 100+ degree days and sticky-mosquito-filled nights. Need relief from this summers heat wave? Enter the mango-ginger margarita.

Margaritas found their fame in Mexico, but are now a popular summertime drink around the world for its refreshing fun flavor. The mango and ginger combine in this drink for a sweet and almost spicy taste that will help you cool down by the pool or at the beach.

Mango Ginger Margarita
 
Ingredients
  • 1 fresh ripe mango, peeled and diced
  • 1 large lemon, squeezed
  • 1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1 Tablespoon agave nectar
  • 4 shots tequila
  • 1 - 1½ cup ice
Instructions
  1. Blend the diced mango, lemon, ginger, agave nectar, and tequila on high until it becomes a puree.
  2. Add the ice ½ cup at a time.
  3. When it reaches a consistency you like, divide between four cups and serve.
 

 

 

6 Creative Ways to Enjoy Mangoes

I was lying underneath my mosquito net one morning in Ghana when I heard a small tap on my window. I sat up and looked out, but no one was there.

So I lied back down. It was over 40 (105 F) degrees and everyone in the village was trying to do as much nothing as possible.

But then I heard the tap again in rapid succession. Tap, tap, tap.

Suddenly, a roar of childrens voices rang outside.

When I went out I saw five children standing underneath the belly of a big green tree beside my house. They each took turns throwing rocks into its leafy abyss, desperately aiming at some unknown target.  

A young boy with red shorts took aim at the tree like a major-league baseball player and then launched his rock at the tree. Thunk. Something large and solid hit the ground with a thud and the children began to shout in celebration.

The same boy cut open the mango and gave out small pieces to each child. With his arm outstretched, he offered a small slice to me.

I was shocked. Stunned.  My mouth exploded with a sweetness that was unparalleled to any fresh fruit I tried before. Was this same fruit I passively ignored for 23 years in the Midwestern United States?

This was not the same mere flavoring that I had encountered before. These mangoes were succulent and bursting with a sticky fresh sweetness that didnt weigh you down like sugar or soft drinks.

I now understood the young children’s – and the rest of the world’s – affection for mangoes. Drinks, snacks, or full blown meals, there is no limit for how these countries use mangoes in their everyday meals. Spanning from the Caribbean to India and even the Pacific Islands, here are a few recipes that showcase some of the best ways to incorporate mangoes!


Thailand: Mango Sticky Rice

Sticky rice can be used as a side dish, or even a dessert as it is commonly served in South East Asia during April and May.  Whats sticky rice? Its slightly sweetened rice that is made stickyby the added sugar. While most summer desserts favor coldness to beat the heat, mango sticky rice is served at lukewarm or room temperature. Its easy to find this delicacy in Cambodia, Indonesia, and Laos, but it is thought to have originated from Thailand.  Surprise your friends with this easy yet memorable dish at a cook out this summer!

Mango Sticky Rice
 
Ingredients
  • ½ cup jasmine or basmati rice
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 (14 oz) can coconut milk
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 sliced mango
Instructions
  1. Cook rice according to directions using half of the coconut milk, ½ cup water, and ¼ cup of sugar. When finished the rice will be very dry.
  2. Using a separate sauce pan, boil the rest of the coconut milk with the second half of the sugar.
  3. Keep the mixture at a boil until it becomes a thick sauce.
  4. Use the ½ cup measure to create small mounds of the rice.
  5. Pour an even amount of the syrup on all the rice mounds.
  6. Add the sliced mangoes and enjoy!
 

Senegal: Summer Rolls

History begets food. During the First Indochina War many Vietnamese citizens moved to Senegal to seek refuge from the war. An unlikely combination of Africa and Asia are molded together to create a truly unique dish: the Senegalese Summer Roll. Its one part West African, and one part South East Asian; taking a clear inspiration from the traditional Vietnamese Summer Roll. However, its accents are clearly African by incorporating peanut sauce and fresh mangoes.

Summer Rolls
 
Ingredients
  • 2 medium eggplants
  • Olive oil, for brushing
  • 16 (8 inch) round rice paper wrappers
  • 1 bunch mint, leaves only
  • 1 bunch basil, leaves only
  • 1 bunch cilantro, leaves only
  • 1 mango, sliced
  • 1 cucumber, sliced length wise into 6 pieces
  • 3 scallions, cut length wise into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 carrot, peeled and grated
  • 1 head lettuce, leaves separated
Instructions
  1. Cut the eggplant into ½-inch slices. Brush the slices with olive oil and grill until cooked through, about 3-5 minutes each side. Slice into four long pieces.
  2. Place a clean, damp paper towel over a plate. Fill a large bowl with warm water.
  3. Immerse the wrapper into the water for 5 to 10 seconds, until it is pliable. Lay the wrapper on the damp towel.
  4. Add a few mint, basil, and cilantro leaves onto the wrapper.
  5. Add a few slices of the mango, grilled eggplant, cucumber, scallion, and a large pinch of the carrot. Be careful to not overfill the wrapper.
  6. To roll the wrapper, fold in the left and right sides over the filling. Take one side and roll it tightly away from you, top to bottom, like a cigar. Repeat with he remaining wrappers and filling.
  7. Serve with lettuce leaves and peanut sauce!
 
Peanut Sauce
 
Ingredients
  • ¾ smooth peanut butter
  • 1 T grated ginger
  • 2 T water
  • 3 T honey
  • 1 T lime juice
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 1 t fish sauce
  • 1 t tamarind paste
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ t sesame oil
  • ½ t cayenne pepper
Instructions
  1. Combine all ingredients in bowl and mix well
 

 

Honduras: Mango Avocado Salad

Is it a salsa or a salad? Who knows. And who cares. This menage of salty and sweet has a lot of competing flavors, but it somehow just works. Youll find this paired with tortilla chips at parties and as a snack at local bars in Honduras and across the Latin World. Want to try your hand at an easy recipe? This one is easy: no cooking and done in under twenty minutes!

Mango Avocado Salad
 
Ingredients
  • 1 mango, peeled and diced
  • 2 avocados, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 1 lime
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
Instructions
  1. Combine all the ingredients together in a bowl.
  2. Mix well and let sit for about 20 minutes.
  3. Serve with tortilla chips and enjoy
 


Vanuatu: Mango Ice Cream

Vanu-what? This ice cream comes from an archipelago in the Pacific islands located a few hundred miles east of Australia. But this ice-cream transcends borders. Remember the mango ice-cream from my hometown that no one ever ate? This is clearly not the same box-flavored stuff. This ice cream uses real mangoes, which are in abundance on the many shores of Vanu-ah-too.

Mango Ice Cream
 
Ingredients
  • 1 cup mango pulp
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 (14 oz) can unsweetened condensed milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • A pinch of salt
Instructions
  1. Heat the milk and turn off the heat just before it starts boiling.
  2. Beat the eggs and the sugar, slowly adding the hot milk while beating.
  3. Add condensed milk, mango pulp, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt. Mix well.
  4. Let cool and refrigerate for 12 hours. Put ice cream maker bowl in the freezer at this time also.
  5. After 12 hours, place the mixture into the frozen ice cream maker bowl. Turn on the ice cream maker for 20 minutes.
  6. Place the mixture out of the maker into the freezer for 30 minutes before serving.
 

 

India: Mango Kulfi

First things first: kulfi is not ice cream. While it is a frozen dairy dessert, its creamier and more dense than traditional ice cream. Kind of like a frozen custard. This dessert is sold on street carts in India by kulfiwalas, literally kulfi sellers” and often comes in a form similar to a Popsicle. The most common flavors are pistachio, rose, and mango. Garnishes include cardamon, pistachio, and dried seasonal fruit, but its most popular on its own.  

 

6 Creative Ways to Enjoy Mangoes
 
Ingredients
  • 2.5 cups milk
  • 2.5 cups mango puree (4 large mangos blended)
  • ¼ or ½ cup sugar (depends on sweetness of mangoes)
  • 5 green cardamon crushed
  • A pinch of saffron
  • 15 unsalted pistachios, blanched, peeled, and sliced
  • 3 T evaporated milk
  • 3 T rice flour dissolved in 3 T of the milk
  • (Optional) rose syrup
Instructions
  1. Put saffron and milk in pan. Heat on a low flame, but don’t boil.
  2. Add sugar, stirring until dissolved.
  3. Dissolve the rice flour in 3 T milk.
  4. Add rice flour mix to the milk, saffron, sugar mixture. Keep stirring so that no lumps are formed.
  5. Continue to cook until the mixture thickens. Turn off flame.
  6. Add evaporated milk. Stir and let the mixture cool.
  7. Add mango puree and sliced pistachios. Mix well.
  8. Pour the mixture into serving bowls. Freeze for 8-10 hours.
  9. Serve cold with rose syrup.
 

Philippines: Mango Float

Now we are back where we started: South East Asia. In the islands of the Philippines this dessert is a classic for birthday parties and celebrations. What is it exactly? Its akin to tiramisù but made with fresh mangoes and sweet bread. This is another easy recipe to try as there is no baking involved. Just assemble, refrigerate for a few hours, and serve.

Mango Float
 
Ingredients
  • 3 mangoes
  • 2.5 cups double cream
  • 1 (14 oz) can condensed milk
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 16 individual baked sponge cakes or graham crackers
  • 1 medium size tray
Instructions
  1. Peel the mangoes. Slice into thin layers.
  2. Slice the sponge cakes in half. (Skip if using graham crackers)
  3. Mix the double cream and condensed milk in a large bowl. Make sure the mixture is well blended.
  4. Start layering the sponge cakes on the bottom of the tray. Make sure they are evenly spaced. Pour ¼ of the mixture on top of the sponge cakes. Add a layer of sliced mangoes on top of the mixture and sponge cakes.
  5. Add another ¼ of the mixture on the mangoes. Add another layer of sponge cakes.
  6. Add a layer of mango slices. Add a layer of sponge cake.
  7. Add the rest of the mixture. Add the remaining mangoes on top.
  8. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
  9. Serve chilled!
 

 

Don’t Chew the Fufu: A Guide to Dining in West Africa

The first rule I learned in Ghana was to not chew the fufu.

On my second day in Kumasi, Ghanas garden city in West Africa, we were ushered into a small wooden structure. Inside on the dirt floor was a big-bellied pot of soup whose contents were rolling red and brown, spitting stew into small puddles on the floor. 

The heat and moisture produced pools of dirt behind our elbows and knees. Flies buzzed around us, but we didn’t swat them. We were too tired from spending all day in the sun and were eager for our next meal.

We were all new college graduates who arrived in West Africa to start our careers in development. Our NGO, or non-governmental organization, implemented peer-to-peer tutoring programs in rural Ghana. Our roles were to create and manage those programs from the ground up, which was much easier said than done. Much like eating fufu.

To finish todays training we will learn to eat fufu,my coordinator said candidly with a grin.

The reputation of the fufu proceeded itself. Its either loved or hated, and too often misunderstood. I had heard about fufu and garnered mixed reviews from decentto something I would never try again.

A bowl plopped down in front of me. A starchy white ball was surrounded by a brown soup and a piece of meat. It smelled faintly of peanuts and beef, but I knew that it wasnt cows meat.

Use your hands,my coordinator said. There were no forks or spoons on the table.

I tore off a piece of the starchy ball and dunked it into the stew. With the consistency of unbaked bread, the ball tasted like mild sourdough. The soup was thick and oily with the hint of roasted peanuts and meat. I tried to chew it when my coordinator stopped me.

Dont chew the fufu,he said. You are supposed to let it slide down your throat. We never chew the fufu.

I watched first. My coordinator tore off a piece of fufu and flattened it with his thumb. He scooped up some of the stew and he placed it into his mouth and swallowed. No chewing necessary.

Determined, I tried again. I tried to swallow, but found that it was easier to let the soggy starch slide down my throat. I continued, letting the fufu slide down with greater certainty until I finished my bowl.

Im not going to lie: it wasnt my favorite thing I tried during my seven months in Ghana. (That would be “bofroat”, which is like a round donut!) But trying fufu was my most memorable food experience in West Africa because it is such a special part of the culture. Its communal to make, communal to eat, and quintessentially Ghanaian.

Everywhere you will go in Ghana the locals will ask you (curious and half-amused): Did you try fufu yet?Its not known to be popular amongst foreigners, but you do get credit (and laughs!) for trying!

What is fufu exactly?

Fufu is a starchy ball made from yams and sometimes combined with plantains. Variations of it are common across the African continent, but in Ghana yams are pounded with butter into soft balls to produce the fufu.

It can be served with soup or meat. The most common variation in Ghana is a peanut soup served with bushmeat, with the fufu ball placed into the bowl of soup. Bushmeatis a blanket term used to describe animals that live in the African bush, which include rodents and ground-hog-like animals.

Fufu is a unique dish that is both a daily meal and served on special occasions with fish, like on Easter. Fufu is best shared with friends and family as a communal meal, as it is also communal to make.

It takes at least two people to transform the yams into fufu. One person pounds the yams with a large wooden spoon and another turns the fufu so that the consistency is even.

If you think you are bold enough to try making fufu and peanut soup like the Ghanaians do, heres a recipe you can make in any kitchen.