The flavour of the week is tamarind. The tamarind, a slow-growing, long-lived, massive tree with strong, supple branches, is covered in dark grey bark. The tree is covered in bright green, feathery foliage and produces inconspicuous, inch wide flowers yellow with orange or red streaks. The Tamarind tree is indigenous to Africa, but is now grown in most tropical countries, including Mexico, India, Australia, and China.
The fruits are flattish, beanlike pods and are tender skinned with green, highly acidic flesh and soft, whitish seeds. As they mature, the pods fill out somewhat and the juicy, acidic pulp turns brown or red. When fully ripe the skin becomes a brittle, easily cracked shell and the pulp dehydrates naturally to a sticky paste enclosed by a few coarse strands of fibre.
The flavor of the greenish unripe tamarind is watery, acidic and very sour. The ripened sticky pulp has a musky flavor and is sweet and sour due to the sugar and the acid content.
The food uses of the tamarind are many. The tender, immature, very sour pods are cooked as seasoning for savoury dishes in India. The fully grown, but still unripe fruits are roasted in coals until they burst and the pulp is dipped in wood ashes and eaten. The fully ripe, fresh fruit is eaten raw.
The pulp is made into a variety of products. It is an important ingredient in chutneys, curries and sauces, including some brands of Worcestershire and barbecue sauce. Sugared tamarind pulp is often prepared as a confection.Tamarind drinks are very popular in the tropics and most especially in Mexico. The strained pulp, much like apple butter in appearance, can be stored under refrigeration for use in cold drinks or as a sauce for meats and poultry, plain cakes or puddings. Tamarind is excellent in margaritas and other cocktails.