I have been looking at boxes of whole tamarind pods at my local Whole Foods for quite some time now. I love the slightly sweet and tart spiced flavor of these woody pods of fruit. I usually buy the pulp frozen or in a little containers in the Asian grocery store sections and markets here, so I thought it would be fun to try the fresh stuff. Rick Bayless has recipes in several of his books for making fresh tamarind pulp base and turning it into an agua fresca or cocktail. I made a batch of the base and made adaptations to turn part of it into a refreshing Sparkling Tamarind Cooler (Agua de Tamarindo).
Sparkling Tamarind Cooler (Agua de Tamarindo)
Adapted from Fiesta at Rick's by Rick Bayless(Makes about 2 quarts)
1 pound (about 16 large) fresh tamarind pods—flexible ones with shells that flake off easily.
Hold a pod in one hand, loosen the stem with the other, then firmly pull out the stem and all the runners that trail down between the shell and pulp. Peel off the shells.
In a large (4-quart), non-aluminum saucepan, bring 1 quart water to a boil. Add the tamarind, remove from the heat and let stand until completely soft—1 to 2 hours, depending on the freshness of the pods. Using your hand or the back of a large spoon, thoroughly dislodge the softened brown tamarind pulp from the fibrous material and seeds.
Strain, discarding the solids. You should have 1 quart of tamarind pulp; if you don’t, add water to reach that quantity.-----
Sparkling Tamarind Cooler (Agua de Tamarindo):
honey to taste (can also use sugar, agave, or simple syrup)club soda or seltzer
ice cubes (small ones are best)
Place tamarind base in a glass or pitcher (depending on how much cooler you are making). Stir in honey or desired sweetener to taste. (I used about 2 teaspoons for 1 large glass). Add club soda in an equal amount to base. Serve over ice in tall glasses and enjoy!
Notes/Results: Lightly sweet, perfect tangy, this is a fun warm weather refresher. You could of course make it more traditional with the plain water, but the bubbles in the soda water make it feel special. Honey pairs well with the tamarind and I think that it adds a more complex flavor than plain sugar. I ended up with two jars of the base and just made a couple of glasses of the cooler, leaving me plenty more to play around with. I will probably try a Mexican Snakebite or "La Culebra" (tamarind base, apple cider & Mexican beer) and use some base unsweetened in a savory dish. (There is a little Malaysian-Singaporean restaurant here that makes a delicious fish in tamarind sauce that I would love to recreate.) Making the tamarind pulp is a little messy and a bit of a pain, so I don't know that I will make my own base very often, but it was fun to try and the flavor is excellent. I did not take step by step photos of the process (it was sticky and I am lazy!), but check out this post over at girlichef where Heather has done a much better job of documenting it.
It's Potluck! week over at I Heart Cooking Clubs this week. You can check out what everyone made by going to the post and following the links.