Tamarind (Tamarindus indica) is a leguminous tree native to tropical Africa, where it grows wild throughout the Sudan; because it was introduced early into India, and was adopted very widely, it was apparently from there that it reached the Persians and the Arabs, who gave it the name of “tamar hindi” (Indian date, from the date-like appearance of the dried pulp), from which both its scientific and modern name derived.
The tamarind as a plant, is one of the most desirable and widely distributed trees of the tropics as an ornamental, but mainly cultivated around the world for its fruit. The tree’s pod-like fruit contains a brown, edible pulp used in many cuisines around the world, and it was introduced in Mexico sometime in the sixteenth century during Spanish colonial times; called tamarindo in Spanish, the tree became naturalized very quickly, especially along coastal regions, and its pulp is nowadays used to prepare cold infusions (agua de tamarindo), in sauces and stews (such as mole de tamarindo), and especially for sweet, salty and spicy treats, simply called “tamarindos.” As mentioned in my previous post, tamarind-based treats are very popular souvenirs to bring home from Mexican beaches, such as Acapulco. However, it is now possible to find them anywhere in the country, in small corner stores, supermarkets, and even at department stores, as pictured below:
Here in Canada, and other countries, it is also possible to recreate some of the warmth of Mexican beaches by preparing these tangy tamarind-based treats at home.
At the supermarket, I found tamarind pods from Thailand:
Tamarind pods are elongated; their brittle shell may be crushed and removed, along with the strings along the pods, as shown below. The brown pulp appears bumpy, due to the hard seeds inside; one seed may be seen, uncovered, at the top of the far right piece:
The shells and strings are discarded, and the pulp (with seeds still inside) is ready to be cooked:
Tamarind Treats (Sweet or Spicy) –
Tamarindos (de dulce o de chile)
1 lb (500 g) tamarind pods; peeled and strings removed
1 ½ cups water
1 cup granulated sugar, plus more for coating
1 tsp ground hot chili pepper (such as piquín or cayenne), or to taste
1 tsp salt
In a pot, bring cleaned tamarind and water to a boil (photo below, left); reduce heat to a simmer and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for about five minutes, until the pulp begins to combine with the water, to form a thick sauce. Remove any strings spotted during cooking (photo below, right):
Once the paste is thick, and it begins to stick to the bottom of the pot, remove from heat. At this point there is a choice of separating seeds or leaving them in; I like separating them with their coating intact, by straining through a mesh:
Reserve the seeds with pulp in the mesh for later.
For sweet treats: Return the strained pulp to the pot, and add granulated sugar (photo below, left); place pot over medium/high heat, and stir to dissolve sugar (photo below, centre); continue cooking and stirring until the paste turns darker, and the bottom of the pot may be seen when the paste is pushed with the back of a spoon (about another five minutes, photo below, right):
Let rest for a few minutes, and allow to cool down. To shape into individual portions, place a good amount of more granulated sugar in a small bowl, then drop a hipping spoonful of paste in the centre:
Toss some sugar on top and gently flip the paste to coat with sugar; pick up and mould into a ball, or any other shape, and repeat with more paste:
From this batch, I got a dozen treats:
Let rest, uncovered, at room temperature; they will set and become manageable for storage (and eating!)
For spicy treats: With the pulp and seeds left in the strainer (photo below, left), I like to recreate the spicy treat from the store. For that, simply place it in a bowl, add cayenne or piquín powder (photo below, centre) and salt, mixing to incorporate (photo below, right):
In the olden days, portions of this spicy paste with seeds were scooped into small clay pots, or “cazuelitas”; the paste was eaten with a balsa wood mini spoon:
These were very popular in schools; as each spoonful of paste was devoured, kids would become euphoric with the punch of flavours (sweet, sour, spicy, wow!); forming a pile of spat shinny seeds was part of the fun, too. I only had one cazuelita, so I divided the rest of the paste into another two small containers:
The sweet balls are often prepared with unstrained pulp and sold in bulk (as seen on the picture at the store); removing seeds and placing portions in mini paper cups are just small artifices that bring these sweet treats to another level:
And just in time for Valentine’s day, some heart-shaped pieces may be arranged nicely, as an extra touch for good luck with love:
Placing them in paper cups makes them look like they belong at a fancy tea party, but their sweet and tangy flavour immediately transported me to a relaxing spot by the seaside.
I am bringing my recipe to Thursday Favourite Things #426 with Bev @ Eclectic Red Barn, Pam @ An Artful Mom, Katherine @ Katherine’s Corner, Amber @ Follow the Yellow Brick Home, Theresa @ Shoestring Elegance and Linda @ Crafts a la Mode. Special thanks to Bev for featuring my Birotes (extra crispy buns) at this party!
UPDATE: Special thanks to Pam for featuring my tamarind treats at her party this week!