Whenever I think of tamarind, the first thought that comes to my mind is a small, round, dark brown candy that was sold by the street vendor in front of my school. When I was a little girl in Brazil, I use to eat one every day after school while waiting for the bus.
But the fruit of the tamarind is far more than a memory from childhood. It is one of the greatest sources of sour taste in cooking. It is broadly found in the cooking of India, Asia, and African dishes. In Brazil, although the fruit grows abundantly since the tall tamarind tree adapts perfectly to our tropical climate, it has never been explored to its full potential. But now in the wave of “wake up to our local ingredients” it’s nouvelle cuisine.
Recently in Brazil, I bought a small tray and devoured the whole thing by myself in a matter of minutes. To suck on a tamarind pit is to experiment the quintessential taste of the exotic. As you can see in the photos, the fruit itself is not your typical apple, orange, or banana. There is very little pulp, and the size of the pit occupies most of the fruit. In my opinion, this so called “fruit” is almost like a natural paste of tamarind that carries so much acid and so much sugar that it feels like eating that tamarind candy of my childhood.
The secret of cooking with tamarind is how to best extract the pulp. To use the fruit, you have to crack the fava, peel it, and clean away the “hair”. If you have about ¼ lb (125g) place that in a glass bowl and cover with 1 cup of boiling water. Soak for 20 minutes periodically mashing the tamarind with your fingers. Strain and discard the pit and any debris. Keep this concentrated paste in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Tamarind can be used in many different ways: In Brazil it is mostly used in sauces, and juices. In India is common in chutneys and curries. In the US, tamarind can be found in the form of paste, cubes, or frozen pulp.
The recipe below is adapted from ©Joseluis Flores and Laura Zimmerman Maye cookbook Dulce, Rizzoli, 2010
Tamarind Ice Cream
Helado de Tamarindo
2 cups (480 ml) heavy cream
1 cup (240ml) whole milk
¾ cup (150g) sugar
7 egg yolks
1 cup tamarind puree*
1 – In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the cream, milk, and sugar to a boil. Reduce the heat and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and let rest for 5 minutes.
2 – In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks together. Continue whisking while pouring a small amount of the hot cream mixture into the yolks. This will temper the yolks and keep them from curdling. While whisking the hot cream mixture, gradually add the tempered yolk. Stir with a wooden spoon over medium – low heat until the custard coats the back the back of the spoon, being careful not to boil, about 4 minutes. Strain the custard through a fine sieve into a clean bowl.
3 – Chill the custard in the refrigerator until very cold, about 3 hours or use an ice bath. Stir in the tamarind puree. Pour into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
* In the US tamarind paste can be found in many Asian or Indian markets. In New York, I recommend www.kalustyans.com.