Probiotic (lactofermented) Amba

I did a lot of research for this recipe. Amba is very traditional sauce from Iraq, with it’s roots back to India. Historically it was made with fermented mango, but most modern recipes just use sugar and vinegar to get the sweet-sour flavour of the sauce. Even the more traditional recipes I came across cooked the mango after fermenting it. Cooking the mango will allow for a smoother texture in the sauce, but I wanted to make sure the sauce retained all the good probiotics from the fermentation process. It is important to use unripe mangoes in this recipe. Ripe mangoes contain too much sugar, and will ferment into alcohol, not the gut boosting elixir we are after. Don’t be surprised if the mangoes aren’t golden when you cut into them, much of the golden colour of the final sauce comes from the turmeric and other spices we add at the end.

Amba sauce was new to me until quite recently, when my Yazidi friends from Iraq introduced it to me as the accompaniment they traditionally serve with falafel. I usually like to have my falafel with yoghurt sauce, but they insisted this is how they eat it. They showed me the shop bought bottle they keep in their fridge, but I did think I could do better. I am very pleased with this result. Amba is also a key ingredient in sabich, a popular breakfast sandwich for Iraqi Jews that migrated to Israel. The sandwich also contains boiled egg, fried eggplant, and tahini sauce. Sometimes it also contains tomato, cabbage, quick pickled onions, salad, other pickles, or hummus.

Makes about a litre

5wholegreen mangoes
1tablespoonmacadamia oil
1tablespoonyellow mustard seeds
1tablespoonfenugreek seeds
2teaspooncumin seeds
1teaspooncoriander seeds
4clovesgarlic, crushed
2teaspoonsAleppo pepper
2teaspoonsKashmiri chilli

To begin with, you need to ferment your mango. Sterilise a glass jar with a loose-fitting lid or fermenting crock. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin of the mango and cut the flesh of the green mango into small pieces. Discard the seed and skin. Weigh the mango flesh you have and calculate appropriately 10% of that, in salt. Carefully pack the mango into your sterilised jar and sprinkle in the salt. Pour over enough water to just cover the fruit. Put the lid on your fermenting vessel, making sure there is a way for any build up of air to be released as the fermentation progresses. Leave it to ferment for at least ten days.

Heat the oil in a pan and add the mustard seeds until they start to pop, then add the fenugreek, cumin and coriander. When they begin to smell aromatic, remove from the heat and add the garlic and turmeric. Let the heat from the pan cook the garlic then transfer the spice mix to a mortar and pestle, pound to a course paste. Think about making sure the finished sauce will not have any particles that will cause a stoppage in your sauce bottle, otherwise, you can make it as course as you like. Add the Alleppo pepper and chilli powder.

Meanwhile, pour off the fermenting liquid from your green mango. Reserve the liquid for next time you want to pickle green mango, it will quicken the fermentation process. Blitz the mango pieces with a stick blender or in a food processer, adding the spice paste as you go. Add half a cup of water to the sauce and keep blending. Add more water if you want a thinner sauce.

This makes about a litre of Amba. You can freeze the sauce to halt the fermentation and flavour profile where it is. Store the sauce in the fridge, but it will continue fermenting and may become more sour. If you want, you can add some brown sugar to the sauce before serving, but please note if you add sugar to the whole bottle, this will just provide the bacteria more food to digest in the longer term.

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5 Responses to Probiotic (lactofermented) Amba

  1. Gary says:

    In the history of the universe, now is the best time to be a microbiologist, more so because our food is so rich in good microorganisms.

  2. I’ve never heard of this but sounds fantastic! You can really see the link to India as I make a fermented Indian lemon pickle that has a very similar method and spices except you don’t puree the lemons, just combine with the spices and oil.

    • Susan says:

      Yes! I read that Indian Jews (who are responsible for the transfer of this culinary creation) call themselves Baghdadi Jews to this day, even though they no longer live in Baghdad. I don’t know if that’s true or not. But this sauce is also one of the primary ingredients in what Israelis call an (Iraqi) Sabbich which came to Israel with Jews migrating from Israel. The original sauce was cooked, so I think it would allow for a softer texture, the green mango fibre probably cooks down smoothly. But I’m quite content with this creation. Some people leave pieces of mango in their home made amba, making it more similar to an Indian pickle, but I wanted one that was suitable for serving through a squeezable sauce bottle.

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