The sweet-sour world of tamarind


Little-known in U.S., the fruit gives drinks an exotic tang


April 28, 2004|By Sara Engram | Sara Engram,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Got tamarind?

If your response is "Got what?" you're not alone - at least in this country, where tamarind is still relatively unknown.

In large parts of the world, particularly India and Latin America, tamarind is a taste treasure, and tamarind tea or tamarind water is considered an indispensable beverage for getting through hot weather. I suspect it will increasingly be showing up on American menus as adventurous chefs seek out tantalizing new flavors.

One such chef is Diane Bukatman, who five years ago transplanted her For the Love of Food catering business and cooking classes to Reisterstown from New York.

"I just love this stuff," she says. "It makes your mouth pucker, then after a while it tastes sweet."

The tamarind tree, a slow-growing evergreen, is native to tropical Africa but was introduced into India so long ago that it is thought by many to be indigenous.

It was introduced into America in the 16th century and it is widely grown in Mexico.

The tree produces brown, curved pods several inches long that yield a brown or reddish-brown pulp with an intriguing sweet-sour flavor. In many tamarind-growing areas, tamarind paste is mixed with sugar and water to provide a refreshing beverage.

Bukatman, who trained as a pastry chef, first became aware of tamarind a few years ago when she began eating a lot of Indian food. She kept noticing a distinctive and intriguing ingredient in many of the Indian dishes she enjoyed. Each time she asked what was in the dishes, tamarind seemed to be the pleasant surprise.

Lemon or sugar can produce a mouth-puckering effect, she says. But with tamarind and its sour-sweet play in the mouth, the result is a more complex and exhilarating flavor.

We don't have ready access to tamarind trees in Maryland, but we do have stores -Asian, Indian and Middle Eastern markets - that carry tamarind syrup or paste. Either of those can serve as the basis of a refreshing drink, and for many Americans a refreshingly different drink.

It's an easy drink, too - simply mix 1/2 cup paste with 1 cup sugar to make syrup. Then combine two parts water with one part syrup, add ice cubes and enjoy.

Or, like Bukatman, you can experiment by adding tamarind paste or syrup to various drinks. Then let everybody guess the secret ingredient.

Tamarind Smoothie

Makes 1 serving

1 teaspoon tamarind paste

2 1/2 tablespoons honey

1 cup milk

2 1/2 scoops frozen vanilla yogurt or vanilla ice cream

pinch ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Place all ingredients into the canister of a blender or smoothie machine and blend until combined and thick. Serve with a straw.

Per serving: 558 calories; 19 grams protein; 8 grams fat; 5 grams saturated fat; 105 grams carbohydrate; 0 grams fiber; 31 milligrams cholesterol; 273 milligrams sodium

Tamarind Wine Spritzer

Makes 1 serving

1/2 teaspoon tamarind paste

4 ounces white zinfandel

8 ounces lemon-lime soda

1/2 teaspoon superfine sugar

Combine ingredients and stir well to blend paste and dissolve sugar. Serve cold or over ice.

-- Both recipes from Diane Bukatman, For the Love of Food

Per serving: 182 calories; 0 grams protein; 0 grams fat; 0 grams saturated fat; 28 grams carbohydrate; 0 grams fiber; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 31 milligrams sodium

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