Tamarind, known as tamarindo in Mexico, is found throughout the country as a favorite drink on food vendor counters and carts. Besides being the main ingredient for the ice cold, tart drink, agua de tamarindo, it is mixed with sugar to make an overly sweet candy that children love. One popular tamarind candy is called Pelon Pelo Rico. The name translates to “Delicious Bald Hair” and describes the strings of candy that are squeezed out of the smooth-topped little container. Maybe it would have looked more string-like when I squeezed it out if my kitchen hadn’t have been so hot. Only a kid could love this stuff.
Purchased agua de tamarindo is usually too sweet, the sugar masking its characteristic tartness. If I make it myself, I can control the amount of sugar added.
To make your own, first crush the pod covering and peel off the shell. It’s almost like peeling a hard-boiled egg. Pull off any strings. You will be able to feel seeds incased by the pulp. Or you can buy a package of shelled pulp from a street vendor, as I did, but you will still have to remove the strings and seeds.
To remove the seeds, bring 2 cups (about 1 lb./.5 kilo/.5 liter) of pulp and 2 cups (.5 liter) of water to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer covered for 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and let cool uncovered. When it is cool enough to handle, pick up about eight seeds and squeeze in your hand. The pulp will ooze out between your fingers and you will be left with a handful of seeds. It probably is not the most efficient way to separate the pulp, but it gets the job done quickly. After fifteen minutes, I had one and one half cups of pulp. Discard the seeds.
Recommended music: Santana’s Supernatural provided the right Latino beat for this job.
For each two glasses of agua de tamarindo, stir together one and one half cups of water and one quarter cup of pulp. Sweeten to taste. Pour into ice-filled glasses.
Etymology: Tamarind is a Latinization of the Arabic words تمر هندي, meaning “Tamar Hindi”, or Indian date.
Tamarind is not a New World native. It originated in tropical Africa where it is still found wild. Tamarind was brought to the Americas, probably in the 17th. century, possibly by the Portuguese.
Worcestershire Sauce contains tamarind pulp, as do many East Indian chutneys.