TAMARIND believes in leaving an impact
Tamarind turns your face into a pleasant wrinkle. It is numbingly tangy and sweet and leaves your tongue to do a tap dance in the mouth. In Kerala, where I come from, a tamarind tree is part of lore. A whiplash with its brawny branch was a dreaded punishment and enough to keep children away from mischief.
Almost every ancestral house had a towering tamarind in the backyard. From its benevolent branches swung down the “desi” swing that kept hordes of grandchildren animated in summer holidays. The fallen leaves in various degrees of green would spread a colourful carpet on the ground. There were many who loved to break open the stubborn brown pod of the tamarind, and slurp on its thick pulp and even crack down on its sturdy seed. If I remember right, the roasted seeds were a sought after munch among children. Tamarind seeds were often bartered for goodies among cousins.
Nostalgia aside, tamarind is quite a layered spice. A tapering bullish pod, almost the length of a palm, shields a mesh of chocolate-hued sticky pulp that covers an array of seeds. It is the pulp in the pod that finds its way into cuisines. Tamarind is considered a native of East Africa but is now abundant in the Indian sub-continent and is also called the Indian date. Tamarind pulp is gleaned out of the pod and cleaned off its roughage and dried. The dried pulp mixed with salt can be stored for long. For the city-dwellers, rendezvous with tamarind are these slabs of dried pulp.
The tamarind pulp syrup is merged into most gravy, including the famed sambar. The tamarind syrup also gives fish curry its vintage taste. In the South, tamarind rice has its devoted followers. It is also used to make the tangy tamarind chutney and pickle. Old-timers turn the tamarind pulp and seeds to fascinating snacks. In the North, a dash of tamarind in the legendary mango drink (aam ka pana), is a home remedy to combat the summer heat.
Tamarind is used generously in South East Asian cuisine, especially Thai and also in Latin American cuisine. It is a handy spice when it comes to making sauces.
Tamarind is also commonly used to bring a shine to bronze and copper vessels and artefacts. Being a tough tree, its wood is often used to make furniture.
The spice has its share of medicinal virtues. Like an assortment of other spices, tamarind is also believed to do its bit to give relief from stomach ailments. In some parts, tamarind leaves are also added to a herbal concoction that brings down malaria fever. Even a shower in water boiled with tamarind leaves is meant to be a toast to good health.