If you are familiar with Iraqi, Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine, you will undoubtedly know amba (in Arabic: عمبة; in Hebrew: עמבה), a delicious mango chutney, salty, spicy, and amber-orange or pinkish orange.
How to make amba
Amba is made of unripe and firm green mango, generally prepared with salt, white vinegar, oil, garlic, chili pepper, curcuma, fenugreek, brown sugar, and cumin. Mustard and coriander seeds are often added.
Traditionally, amba is prepared by slicing and salting green mangoes and placing them in a glass jar in the sun to ferment for several days. The mango is then removed from the jar and left to dry flat in the sun for several hours.
Once dried, the mango is simmered with sugar and spices and then mixed to be enjoyed.
The more you ferment the mango in the sun, the more intense the flavor of the amba will be. But not all of us are lucky enough to live in a sunny place.
Inspired by the technique of many Israeli and Iraqi cooks, the recipe presented here offers a cooking by salt and a fermentation in the refrigerator that will give a result, certainly a little different, but just as delicious as with mangoes that are fermented in the sun.
What is the origin of amba?
As mangoes originate from South Asia, the name amba seems to have been borrowed, in Arabic, from the word marathi āmbā (आंबा), which is itself derived from the Sanskrit word āmra. These words simply mean “mango”.
Amba was reportedly created in the 19th century by members of the Sassoon family from Bombay, who were Iraqi Jews from Baghdad.
Iraqi Jewish immigrants then introduced it to Israel in the 1950s to accompany their Saturday morning meal on Sabbath, precisely with a good sabich.
Amba is very popular throughout the Arabian Peninsula, consumed with bread as part of the nawashef, a tray of mezzés, composed of small plates containing for example different types of cheeses, and different dishes made from eggs, pickles, falafels, hummus, etc.
Amba is now one of the most widely consumed sauces in Israel, where it was introduced by Iraqi Jews. Inseparable from the famous sabich, and also often used as a garnish on falafel, kebab, and shawarma.
In Israel, amba often accompanies offal, as with the delicious meorav yerushalmi, a dish of grilled meat considered a Jerusalem specialty. It consists of chicken hearts, spleen and liver mixed with pieces of lamb cooked on a griddle, seasoned with onions, garlic, black pepper, cumin, turmeric, olive oil and coriander, a pure delight, especially drizzled with amba.
Amba is also used in Assyrian cuisine, especially with falafel.
The ancestor of amba is therefore none other than the famous Asian acar.
Used by Portuguese sailors to preserve food, the recipe has spread throughout the Indian Ocean and even the Pacific. It is found, for example, in New Caledonia.
Acar consists of small pieces of fruit or vegetables that have been blanched and then marinated in a salted and oiled vinegar sauce, with ginger, chili and turmeric.
Southeast Asian variants are generally composed of different fruits or vegetables such as cucumber, carrots, cabbage, shallot, red pepper and green beans, pickled in vinegar, sometimes with added kaffir to add a citrus flavor, and dried peppers. Some recipes add ground peanuts to fruit or vegetables.
A similar preparation is known as atjar in Dutch cuisine, whose ancestor is the Indonesian acar.
Acar has also been introduced in the Philippines where it is called achaara.
It goes very well with any roasted protein or cereal.
Amba combined with yoghurt and a little lemon juice is also a perfect dip for vegetables or pita chips.
Amba will add a touch of acidulous and fruity warmth to all your dishes!
- 4 large unripe and firm mangoes
- 3 tablespoons salt
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 6 cloves garlic , finely chopped
- 1 red pepper , seeded and diced
- 2 teaspoons mustard seeds (optional)
- 1 tablespoon ground turmeric
- 2 teaspoons ground fenugreek
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander seeds (optional)
- ½ teaspoon Cayenne pepper
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 cup water
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- Peel the mangoes, then cut the flesh around the stone.
- Cut the flesh into small cubes.
- Place the mango cubes in a bowl.
- Add salt and stir by hand until all mango pieces are well coated with salt.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 days.
- Over medium-low heat, heat the oil in a large pot.
- Add the mustard seeds, and when they start to make popping sounds, add the garlic and chili pepper.
- Sauté until softened, but before browning (about 2 to 3 minutes).
Add the rest of the spices: turmeric, fenugreek, coriander, and Cayenne pepper. Stir and sauté for another minute.
- Add the mango, brown sugar and water.
- Mix, and increase the temperature of the fire to medium-high.
- Simmer for 5 to 6 minutes or until the mango is softened and the liquid has slightly decreased.
- Turn off the heat and add the vinegar to the mixture.
- Taste and adjust to your taste by adding more vinegar, sugar, salt or spices if necessary.
- Take half of the mango cubes with a skimmer and set them aside.
- Using a food processor, purée the rest and mix it with the reserved mango cubes.
- Once cooled, transfer the amba to hermetically sealed glass jars and refrigerate.
- Amba can be stored well in the refrigerator for about 2 to 3 weeks.