Friday, September 26, 2014

Tamarind and Its Many Uses

Tamarind Pods: photo courtesy of mlvalentin, Wikipedia
I was first introduced to Tamarind as a beverage when living in Guatemala in the 1970s. The beverage is delightfully tart and refreshing, akin to a good lemonade. Tamarind, tamarindus indica, is the fruit of the tamarind tree. It grows in long, dark brown pods. Inside the pods, which are easily removed, lies a thick, sticky and fibrous fruit surrounding flat seeds. The sticky and fibrous pulp is what is used to make beverages (by soaking in water), or into sweets, or mixed into foods to flavor with its tart and sweet goodness. Incidentally, it is also an ingredient of Worcestershire sauce.

Thought to be indigenous to tropical Africa, tamarind is now so common in India that it is known as the Indian Date. It grows throughout most tropical regions, most of Asia and Australia. Crusaders may have been the first to introduce tamarind to Europe. It was later brought to the West Indies and cultivated and spread all throughout the tropics. Tamarind is a leguminous tree in the family Fabaceae (beans, peas, legumes). The tree is evergreen and can grow up to 60 feet in height. The leaves are in typical Fabaceae type, where there are groups of small leaflets opposite each other down a stem.

One of many brands of tamarind concentrate
If you are fortunate to live near an market of some kind stocking international products, you might find whole tamarind pods. I have seen them sold in cellophane packages. The outer pod is thin and cracks off easily, leaving the sticky pulp surrounding seeds. Otherwise you might find tamarind paste or cake, labeled as such or as "seedless" tamarind paste. Do not put complete faith in the seedless statement. You will still have to hunt through the paste to remove seeds. Fortunately, once soaked, sifting through the pulp and finding seeds is easy to accomplish. A third way tamarind is sold is as a smooth syrup or tamarind concentrate, sometimes so thick it is literally like "molasses in January", and sometimes quite runny and thin. Depending on need, any of these products will work just fine. The whole pods or the compressed "paste" or "cake" can be kept well wrapped and frozen. The smooth syrup lasts for an extraordinarily long time in the refrigerator.

Though I do not used tamarind often, it has become a staple to keep on hand. I used tamarind in making my Mango Tamarind Barbecue Sauce some time back; delightful on pork ribs, chicken or even shrimp and scallops. My most common beverage of choice is water rather than a sweet drink, but when the urge strikes, tamarind is most definitely thirst quenching. 

Tamarind Beverage, learned in Guatemala

Tamarind Beverage

makes 1 to 2 quarts

1/2 pound whole tamarind pods
water, as needed
sugar or sweetener, to taste

Remove the outer shell from the pods and place the sticky fruit into a container and cover with water. All to soak for at least 2 hours. With scrupulously clean hands, work through the pulp, which will have softened appreciably, loosening the pulp into the liquid and freeing the seeds. Strain the liquid through a fine mesh sieve. Add water to make anywhere from 1 to 2 quarts of liquid (1 quart will be far more tart than 2 quarts). Add sugar as desired, or other sweetener of choice to make the tart drink palatable, just as with lemonade.

With its sweet and sour flavor, tamarind makes a great addition to marinades or sauces. The sweet sour flavor is wonderful added to soups. I mix tamarind pulp into my Mango Chutney recipe. Many years back, in the second year of Cuisine Magazine (now called Cuisine at Home), there was a recipe for marinated rack of lamb; the marinade used tamarind concentrate. It was the best rack of lamb, ever! On top of that, they included a date sauce to go with the meat when serving. Also excellent. But the flavor of the meat was what really stood out. I made this recipe for my husband's birthday dinner and it went over swimmingly! I am going to post that recipe with marinade here. It is from "August Home's" Cuisine, Issue 9, May/June 1998, page 6.

Grilled Rack of Lamb

serves 4+
Rack of lamb using marinade with tamarind

2 racks of lamb

1 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup tamarind sauce (I used the concentrate)
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped
1/4 cup peanut oil (I used olive oil)
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds, toasted and crushed
2 teaspoons black pepper

Make sure your racks of lamb have been properly trimmed, with chine and feather bones removed. If in doubt, ask your butcher. Remove all excess fat, right down to the eye of the meat, along with any silver skin. Trim out all fat from between the bones, called "frenching" (see a YouTube video on this technique here) leaving the bones perfectly clean. Clean off all excess fat from the meat. To insure the meat comes out with a perfectly rounded shape, tie butchers' twine tightly around the meat between each bone.

Make the Marinade by toasting the cumin seeds until very fragrant in a hot, dry skillet, 3 to 5 minutes. Crush the cumin in a mortar and pestle or with a mallet. Whisk all the marinade ingredients together and place it into a container large enough to hold the racks of lamb. A zip top bag will work fine. Place the meat into the container of choice and pour on the marinade. Allow the meat to marinate for 2 hours at room temperature. 

Before grilling (I use a gas grill), light one side of the grill to highest temperature, leaving the other side of the grill off. Remove the lamb from the marinade and wrap foil around each individual bone, to prevent burning. Lay the racks onto the hot side of the grill. After 2 minutes, flip the racks and brown the other side for 2 minutes. Now move the meat over to the unheated side of the grill, leaving the grill lit on the other side to create an oven-like atmosphere. Using a probe to ensure proper temperature in the meat, insert the probe into the center portion of the rack, between the bones, halfway into the meat. Put the lid on the grill and monitor the probe. For medium-rare (best) the temp should reach 135 degrees, and will take about 20 minutes. Set the racks aside to rest for 5 minutes before removing all the foil from the bones and the strings tied around the meat. Slice the lamb chops apart to serve. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.