Tamarind for the thirsty

The Patterned Plate Tamarind Cooler EThe Patterned Plate Tamarind Cooler_0073The Patterned Plate Tamarind Cooler CSucking on a leathery tamarind fruit  is as much  punishment as it is a pleasure. The initial sweetness, gives way to such tartness, it pinches the sides of your tongue to release more saliva just to cope. There might be hilarious facial contortions, great for on-lookers. If you lived through that, chances are you like it, and I’ll bet, you’ll take another chomp. The flavour of tamarind is a hard one to describe. Sharp apple, molasses/date like sweetness, maybe a bit of peanut, sour, tart and with a twang that’s instantly recognisable. Worchestershire sauce wouldn’t be what it is, without this brown sticky gunge. The thing I love most about eating sweet tamarind, is this odd sensation of warmth that spreads over your mouth. Oh, it’s definitely a complex bunch of beans.

For a fruit that started off in Africa, South East Asia and Mexico are the largest consumers. In India, it is used extensively in South Indian food, particularly with seafood and vegetable, both of which naturally benefit from an acidic element to bring out their quieter flavours. Thailand, Mexico and India also share a love of tamarind drinks. While other countries tend to sweeten the fruit and leave it at that, Indians of course, need to spice things up.

Now, I am a kitchen heathen – I’ve used the concentrated Indian tamarind paste instead of soaking the pods, just for ease. Note that the Thai pastes have a slightly different flavour and are not as acidic as the Indian ones. Traditional flavourings chucked into the mix are – black salt (well, it’s actually pink!), roasted cumin seed powder, ginger and clove. I opted to use Chaat Masala as it contains black salt and cumin. Know, that a good scraping of ginger, left to infuse in the warmed mix, brings a lovely, refreshing note. Brown sugar was the sweetener of my choice. Traditionally, it would be jaggery melted in a pan but both echo the molasses note in tamarind. The following recipe gives you a concentrated potion you can dilute to your liking.

Tamarind brooks no compromise; you either love it or hate it. The Scotsman, wrinkled his face and handed back the glass sharply, panic stricken ice cubes clinking madly against the edge. ” Tastes like angostura bitter”, he said scornfully. There’s no point battling over someone’s palate. Good thing I love the man!

The Patterned Plate Tamarind Cooler AThe Patterned Plate Tamarind Cooler D

Indian Tamarind Cooler

Tamarind Cooker

3 tablespoons of Indian tamarind concentrate
100gm light brown sugar
1/8th teaspoon chaat masala, optional
2 cups of water
Squeeze of lemon juice to taste, optional

Place all the ingredients into a small saucepan and put on the heat, just to melt the sugar and tamarind. Whisk to bring it all together. Take off heat, let it cool and spritz in the lemon. Strain the concentrate through a fine muslin or sieve, before placing in a jar in the fridge. To serve, dilute with chilled water (I used around 5 cups, but taste as you go along) and pour into tall glasses filled with ice cubes. Stuff in some mint leaves. The tamarind will sink as it sits, so straws or  stirrers are a good idea.

Options:
Instead of chaat masala, you could use either of the below.

  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp black salt (take care, this has quite a pungent ‘aroma’ but it adds an incredible savoury depth to food)
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • Just under one teaspoon of roasted cumin seed powder – ‘roast’ the cumin seeds in an oil free pan, on medium heat, until the seeds turn a couple of shades darker and release a heady aroma, but are not smoking. Immediately place into a spice grinder or pestle and mortar and bash to a fine powder. Add this to the tamarind mix in the pan, allowing it to infuse the mix as it cools. Proceed as above. 
  • Finely sliced 1″ piece of fresh ginger – Put this into the pan after the sugar has melted, let it warm through and then set aside to infuse as the mix cools. Proceed as above. 

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32 comments

  1. I love anything tamarind flavoured! My husband would have had the same reaction as your Scotsman. We can’t help it if their sour tastebuds are under-evolved. More for us I say!

  2. Ha ha, You have given such a cute description of the tangy tamarind. I have never had a tamarind drink in my life, never knew a drink can be made with tamarind. Its so versatile !! Crystal clear pics, Carrie!! Wonderful :)

  3. Rushi!

    See you always learn something new everyday. I love tamarind but I’ve never heard of a tamarind drink :) I used to love those tamarind toffees as a child, well I still do. Trust you to come up with interesting drinks to quench the summer heat :)

    • Really Rushi? I thought you might have had some exposure to it. Imli ka sherbet is common enough in India, though I have to say, more so northwards. Oh those tamarind toffees and fruit leathers! Toe curlingly sour and incredible moreish!

      • Rushi!

        I know shocking, isn’t it? He he he. Well I’ve remedied that by making this gorgeous tamarind cooler a couple of times during the last few days. Have you had those velvet tamarind (the really tiny tamarind pods)? I spent alot of my pocket money buying heaped bags of ‘em from the street vendors :)

        • Oh!!! So pleased you liked it Rushi! I haven’t had the tiny ones but used to sneak in the sweet ones when on summer holidays in Kerala. My grandmother highly disapproved, which only spurned me on!

  4. My mom has always enjoyed Tamarind drink, which, at the time was unusual in Brazil, even though they are quite abundant there. Thanks for the fond memories and the suggestion for this hot summer we’re having in Canada, just perfect for the cottage. Love your recipes, thanks for sharing!

  5. I love how you have described the taste of tamarind- it is kind of peanutty! We had a tamarind tree in my boarding school, just outside our senior girls’ cottage. School rules forbade us from eating it (runny stomach etc) but we still did. This looks beautiful. And don’t feel bad- I use the packaged paste too!

  6. What a lovely post, I used to live with a Kenyan who loved to make tamarind juice. I haven’t drunk it for years thanks for reminding me. Lovely photos too.

  7. I’ve never thought of tamarind as a drink before! I can’t wait to try this recipe as I can’t even imagine what it tastes like – how exciting :)

  8. What pretty drinks!

  9. OHHHH! lightbulb moment! A long time ago we visited an Indian restaurant in London. I had a ‘Indian style’ lemonade with what I thought was cumin in it. Now I see that originally this drink must have been made with tamarind, not lemons.
    I simply must try to make this for myself. I love your photos, they are making me thirsty!

  10. Mya

    Just discovered your blog and I’m so happy I’ve come across it! This sounds soo good and interesting! Can’t wait to see more.
    xx, Mya, a new follower

  11. Love it love it!I’ve got to make this!

  12. Great idea. I only ever use tamarind for Thai cooking and have a block of it sitting uselessly in my fridge currently, time to put it to work!

  13. I love tamarind! In my country (the Philippines) we use it to flavour our most famous sour soup dish. Beautiful photographs too :)

  14. Walking around Meijer the other day, we spotted some tamarind for sale, and I admit I had no idea what it was! So of course we had to buy it (and google how to eat it). I loooooved it! Additional research led us to the discovery that tamarind extract is in Worcestershire sauce–minds were blown that day.

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