Monday, March 14, 2016

Thinking of Tamarind

As always, Bangalore has bypassed spring and stepped straight into summer.  There is nothing more reminiscent of summer than ripe tamarind, hanging temptingly from tall trees, just out of reach.  Of course, if the monkeys (and passers by) don't pick them, the pods fall with little thuds onto the carpet of yellowing tamarind leaves laid out below, and one can race with the squirrels to get to them.

It's hard nowadays to see tamarind trees in public areas; earlier they would abound because they are hardy and well suited to this region.  Providing shade, shelter to birds and animals and deliciously sour fruit, one would think people would like more of them around.  Instead we now have exotic foreign varieties of trees and shrubs which have no place for a bird to sit upon and no shade for a person to rest under.

I also love tamarind trees because they are so incredibly beautiful - large but dainty in detail.  The leaves are made of tiny leaflets, dark green initially, which turn lighter over time.  The flowers are also tiny, almost inconspicuous - yellow and red.  From these emerge long dark pods with tender fruit and the most wonderful looking seeds within - a very dark and shiny brown.

Tamarind is used for cooking and in traditional medicine.  (It is also used in parts of Asia to polish brass!)  My favourite way of eating it is just by itself, fresh off the tree, but one can't eat too much of it like that.  I like to make a chutney by boiling and straining it and adding jaggery and salt, to taste.  Much of the time in our house, the chutney is used to make chaat - the wonderful north Indian savoury concoction, made originally when the weather was very hot and the palate was jaded and the stomach needed something cool and refreshing.  Nowadays, it is found everywhere, but with so much fried stuff and chilly powder thrown in that it does my stomach no good.

No, my homemade chaat is made to my specifications - with freshly boiled and diced potato, tiny boiled chickpeas, tamarind chutney, fresh coriander (cilantro) and mint chutney, pomegranate seeds, whipped curd and a hint of fresh ginger and powdered roasted cumin.  In this I add a few crushed papries (small fried savouries) which give it a nice crunch.

Now that summer has begun, although I no longer can pick and use tamarind off the trees, I have made some bottles of chutney and kept them in the refrigerator (where they stay for months).  Bowls of chaat are being served at home in the afternoons, and they are very welcome!
#Header1_headerimg { margin: 0px auto }