Friday, May 30, 2008

Tamarind Drink with Zing!

What do you do when you're in the store and you see these?

Actually, they still had their shells on before this picture was taken. The photo shows the interior, and if you look closely you'll see there are long stringy fibers and lumps, which are the seeds, surrounded by a sweet and slightly sticky pulp. If you pull the strings off, you can pop bits of the fruit into your mouth and suck on them like candy...very tart candy! The seeds separate easily from the pulp...and they germinate here in Florida quickly, too.

These are tamarind pods, and they're found in that part of the produce section where I'm not really sure WHAT anything is, but where my husband lights up and exclaims, "oh, look! it's a (fill in the blank with a fruit I've never heard of)"

These are actually "local" to us, meaning they probably didn't come from just down the street, but are native sub-tropical fruits we can grow. And of course, in the name of experimentation with potential fruits we might grow, we taste! I found out tamarind is a favorite around the world, in proximity of the equatorial belt.

The pulp can be hand-squeezed into blocks or lumps from which segments are cut or pinched and formed into candies simply by compressing it somewhat and dusting it with powdered sugar, or a sprinkle of salt. It is delicious without either...nature's own Sweet Tart. It is also featured in local cuisines of nearly every subtropical country, in chutnies, sauces, condiments, and drinks. It's a distinctive ingredient in familiar-to-me condiments like Worchestershire sauce, Heinz 57, and Britain's HP sauce (my favorite being the HP Curry Sauce). When I heard it could be made into a drink much in the way lemons are made into lemonade, I wanted to try it!

And that's how we ended up with a bagful of pods, which have stayed in a glass jar ever since, until last night when I ran across a very simple recipe for a Tamarind drink. Essentially, you boil the peeled pods and remove as many of the strings as possible. You add some sugar to the liquid as a sweetener, and then strain the mixture a time or two to allow the fruity pulp through but removing the seeds and other bits.

Here's what mine looked like while boiling...I was only working with a handful of pods to begin with. Here are the pulp and seeds and you can see they are separating.

I strained it, and the pulp that was left behind I saved a bit of and added it back to the liquid, because it was the consistency of applesauce and tasted wonderful. The taste reminded me of a very complex, rich apple, very tart like a lemon's tartnes, but deliciously sweet. It reminded me of a tarter version of spiced cider...but different...but not "weird different." Yum!

This is how the liquid looked strained...I might not use as much water next time, but I have a feeling either way, it's really good. This was supposed to be set into the fridge and chilled to serve over ice, but frankly it was SO good that Jack and I divided it and drank it quite warm. He'd worked outside yesterday and was worn out, and he found it rejuvenating.

He pronounced it exactly as he'd remembered tasting in his childhood, and drank it straight down with gusto! Well, alright, it's a keeper :)

The even more delightful aspect of incorporating tamarind into drinks and meals is that it really packs a nutritional punch, which would account for its popularity in hot climates reaching from Africa across the Middle East, India and Eastern Spice Trails, the Far East, Central and South America, and all the Islands along the tropical belt worldwide.

We put a few seeds from one pod into some potting soil only a couple weeks or so ago. Looky what's coming up!

We now have about six baby tamarinds! If these are fertile and produce good fruits, they'll do so in about 6 to 8 years, and boy will the harvest be a whopper...a single, good, producing tree can average up to 350 pounds of pods a year! The fruits can be stored in the pod or hulled and seeded to store just the pulp.

And if there weren't already enough culinary uses for the tamarind, they are also traditionally used in some cultures to polish brass...

On the Wish List, we'll keep the tamarinds if they do well as they get bigger. What can you say for a fruit that's easy to store, adds a lot of flavor to life, is packed with vitamins and iron, and can be used to make a natural "soft drink" that rivals anything artificial out there? I love the fact that the seeds come up readily with no fuss and seem to thrive in the blistering heat. What's not to love? When the time comes that we can offer seeds we've saved, tamarind seeds are so plentiful I'm guessing they'll be among the first.

I'm so glad we tried this!


Wendy said...

That sounds yummy! Makes me wish I could grow more stuff like that here in Maine. I know I need to explore my native plant list more ;).

Congrats on a great find! - And on planting some in your space ;). What a great idea!

Robbyn said...

Wendy, in 6-8 years if we have 350 lbs of the stuff per tree, I'll be mailing you bags of it if you like :) I'm curious about native plants and all the uses they have that the prior generations knew about but that we've somehow gotten out of touch with. I LOVE finding that some of the very plants right under our noses have multiple applications...