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Though considered exotic by many, mangoes are a staple in the equatorial regions of the world. They have been cultivated in India since 2000 B.C. Mangoes comes in all shapes and sizes, from oblong and pear-shaped to long and shinny. Some weigh 4 ounces; some weigh 4 pounds. Skin color ranges from greenish yellow to red-blushes, while the flesh can vary from lemon yellow to brilliant reddish orange.

When choosing mangoes, press the stem end, hold it close to your nose, and take a whiff. Fresh mangoes will have a sweet, resinous scent. No scent means no flavor. If the fruit smells sour or alcoholic, it has begun to ferment and has passed its prime. You may detect the astringent odor of kerosene, which mangoes actually contain. Also, cradle the mango in the palm of your hand. It should feel firm, and the skin should be tight around the flesh. If the skin is loose or wrinkled, the fruit is old.

Keep mangoes at room temperature, where they will continue to ripen and become increasingly aromatic. Only refrigerate fully ripe mangoes, and use them within a few days. Mangoes prefer tropical climes and don't do well to the cold.

To seed a mango, stand the mango upright on a cutting board and slice through the flesh on one of the flatter sides, curving around the seed. Repeat on the other side to make 2 disklike portions of fruit plus a third center section with the seed. To dice or chop, place 1 mango half, skin side down, on a countertop or in a double-up kitchen towel in the palm of one hand after cutting the flesh off the seed. Score the flesh all the way down to the skin in a checkerboard pattern. Be careful not to slit the outer skin.

Asian Fruits and Desserts **

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