I was once trying to decide what to cook for a group of hungry navy people at our weekly drill night. The options were beef goulash, or an all-time favourite of mine: chicken with apricots, almonds and coriander. Unable to decide (as so often in my life), I asked a friend of mine who shares my passion for all things edible. He suggested that the latter sounded "much more of an 'Elly' dish, being full of fruit". Such is my love of introducing the sweet, tart and juicy to savoury dishes that apparently they deserve to be named after me. I'm practically up there with the likes of Caesar, Eve and Arnold Bennett (of salad, apple pudding and omelette fame, respectively). Incidentally, for those of you who, like me, are now curious about the number of foodstuffs named after people, Wikipedia has an excellent article on the subject here. It's surely only a matter of time before dishes like this salad appear on the list as "Elly dishes".
(Disclaimer: I don't actually have such an over-inflated and grandiose sense of self-importance that I really believe I am unique and revolutionary in liking fruit in my savoury dishes, or that I deserve to have food named after me).
It's no secret that I'm in love with the current influx of honey mangoes from Pakistan. If I told you I was bathing in their juice and sleeping on a bed of their skins, you probably wouldn't be surprised (though I'm not, by the way - I like food but I also like not being sticky, yellow, and an attraction for wasps). After the amazing success that was my mango, coconut and cardamom cheesecake I decided to branch out into savoury mango recipes, suspecting that no dessert recipe could ever quite top the sheer brilliance that is that cheesecake. Because these mangoes are so ripe and sweet, I thought they'd make a good match with more assertive savoury flavours. I tried them out in a salsa with barbecued mackerel - I normally make this to serve with oily fish, using chopped mango, avocado, chilli, lime juice, basil, coriander and mint. This time I omitted the avocado and used a chopped Granny Smith apple, because I had an inkling that its crunch would be a nice contrast with the very ripe mango; avocadoes have a similar texture and I worried it would be a bit mushy. Apple and mango juice has been one of my all-time favourite things since childhood; I really believe no other combination of fruit juices can match it for sheer ambrosial goodness. The salsa was a triumph; the tart apple balanced out the excessive sweetness of the mango, and the fresh herbs and lime juice lent it a beautiful sharpness that worked well with the charred mackerel.
I then had the idea of transforming those flavours into a salad, with wild or brown rice, flaked smoked mackerel, herbs, chilli, lime and mango, and maybe some cucumber added for texture. In the market, with the intention of buying smoked mackerel, I caught sight of these whole smoked chickens in the butchers. I'd thought about using chicken instead of mackerel in the recipe, but worried it would be a bit bland to work with the sweet mango and punchy herbs. Smoked chicken, however, I thought would be excellent, and perhaps not as cloying as smoked mackerel sometimes can be. I bought one of the chickens, figuring it would feed me and a friend. How wrong I was. I sat down to strip the meat off the bones, and about ten minutes later I was still going, a huge pile of shredded chicken mounting on the chopping board. If you've never tried smoked chicken before, I cannot recommend it enough. The smell is incredible; it will permeate your kitchen and fridge for days (which I think is a good thing, but I suppose it depends what else is in your fridge). The meat is incredibly tender, because it's still on the bone, and the skin a gorgeous burnished colour. It was also brilliant value - I got mine from the organic butchers, and it was still less than £6, which provides enough meat to easily feed five in this salad. If you often find chicken a bit boring, try it smoked. I can't wait to experiment with it in other salads. Incidentally, smoked duck and turkey are also fabulous.
For the salad, I cooked some brown rice (it has more texture and flavour than white, so works better in salads, though if I'd had some I would have used a mixture of brown and wild rice for even more texture and colour). I mixed in the shredded chicken, then made a dressing by blitzing a ripe mango in the blender with some lime juice, a dash of sweet chilli sauce, and huge handfuls of herbs: basil, mint and coriander. This is, in my opinion, the holy trinity of herbs. They're wonderful on their own, but combined they give off the most incredible zesty aroma and flavour. However, if you don't want to buy all three, any of them would be fine on their own. I chopped up another mango and stirred it into the salad, and finally added some chopped cucumber, for a lovely mellow crunchiness. It works best if you stir the mango dressing into the rice while still hot, as it soaks it all up, and then leave it to cool for a bit before adding the mango and cucumber. I also chopped up some more herbs and stirred them in at the end.
I absolutely love this salad. The flavours in it are just incredible - the chicken is so rich and dense, but it's lifted perfectly by the sweet and soft mango, and then the mixture of vibrant herbs and lime juice prevents the whole thing from cloying. The rice is a beautiful nutty canvas for the other flavours, and the cucumber provides a refreshing crunch. It's best served at room temperature, but keeps well in the fridge - you can just microwave it for a few seconds to take the chill off it before serving. I added extra fresh mango when serving it for the second and third time, just to perk it up a bit. I'm no nutritionist, but I think this is a pretty good healthy lunch or dinner - protein, whole grains, fruit and vegetables, plus large bunches of vibrant green herbs which always make me feel healthy just looking at them. It's immensely filling so you don't need very much, though the temptation to eat a large plateful is immense, given its deliciousness. When honey mangoes are out of season, you can just use normal ripe mangoes, and if you don't have chicken, use mackerel, and if you want to use white rice, do. It's a very versatile combination of ingredients but the basic mango/herb/lime dressing makes whatever you do with it taste incredible.
Smoked chicken and mango rice salad (serves 4-5):
- 300g brown rice (or a mixture of basmati/brown and wild rice)
- 2 honey mangoes, stoned, peeled and chopped
- Zest and juice of 1 lime, plus another lime for serving
- Large handfuls each of basil, coriander and mint
- 1-2 tsp sweet chilli sauce
- A smoked chicken, meat pulled from the bones and shredded (or normal leftover chicken, or 4 smoked mackerel fillets)
- Half a cucumber, sliced and each slice quartered (or more if you love cucumber!)
- Salt and pepper
First, bring a large pan of water to the boil. Add the rice, and boil according to the packet instructions - mine took around 45 minutes. When cooked but still with a bit of bite (brown rice doesn't go soft like white, it still has some crunch to it), drain and place in a large bowl.
While the rice is cooking, place one of the mangoes in a blender along with the lime juice and zest, the chilli sauce (use 1tsp and then add more if you think it needs it) and the herbs. Blitz to a runny paste, then toss with the rice in the bowl so it's evenly coated. Season with salt and pepper.
Add the chicken and toss everything together. Allow to cool for a little while then add the cucumber and the other mango.
Toss through a few more herbs, if you like, then serve with the other lime cut into wedges for squeezing over.