Cumin is the one singular smell that immediately transports me back to Honduras. To my grandmother’s kitchen. To my grandmother. It’s earthy, wooden and toasted fragrant smell and taste is effortlessly identifiable and unmistakable. It’s the kind of taste meant to be used in moderation because it can easily, and unforgivingly, overpower anything and everything––whether you intended to, or not.
Recently my friend Sakina––on a trip back to her home country Morocco––brought me back an array of Moroccan spices, both colorful and muted colors. They were not labeled, and when I asked her the names of the spices, which was which, or how to use them, she replied that some were not translatable or describable in the English language.
I untucked the knot of each small plastic bag of spice, opened its opening up, and inhaled. Cumin was the only one I could identify by sight and smell.
Although Mexican mangos are probably the most transported to the U.S., and accessible to me in New York City, Honduran mangos have and will always be my favorite. I can’t describe their taste, only know that they taste like home. This is why it pains my soul and heart to pay for mangos: to pay for one of the few things in my childhood that was given to us in surplus and abundance.
My grandfather didn’t have much––as a father raising his children, or as a grandfather in his old age. But he did have a mango tree in his small concrete backyard in Progresso, Honduras. On and from that tree mangos grew in abundance and surplus–so much that my grandfather would have to leave bagfulls of mangos at the gate’s entrance for passerbys to take, after he had run out of family members, friends and neighbors to give them to.
A different structural house, but the same plot of government-given land where my mother, tia and tio had been raised with my grandfather, after my grandmother, in a house made of wood slabs and clay. We visited Honduras every summer, dividing our time equally between my grandfather and my grandmother’s house.
My grandmother has been dead and gone for years now; her beloved cumin wasn’t able to revive or bring her back. My grandfather is currently on bed rest and bound to a wheelchair, awaiting death, never again able to ride his bike into the city, or climb his mango tree to give to everyone and anyone who would take one.
A green or ripened mango
Two pinches of salt
Two pinches of cumin
The juice of half (or full, if you like acidity) a lime or lemon
The desired amount of your favorite cayenne pepper hot sauce
With a peeler, peel the skin off the green or ripened mango, balancing the pressure of the peeler carefully in order not to bruise, depending which mango you choose.
Once completely peeled, slice the mango meat as close to the seed as possible. Then, slice the mango flesh into wedges, as thick or as think as you desire. Personally, if the mango is green, I prefer the slices thin, and if ripened, thick.
Place mango slices in a round bowl. This is important in order to catch and contain the seasoned mango juice. Season mango with salt, cumin, lemon or lime juice. Adjust taste completely on preferred preference.
Lastly, if adventurous, drink the remaining spiced lime or lemon/mango juice that remains.