Friday, February 26, 2010

Tamarindo: The Mexican School

In a former professional life, I spent a great deal of time in Central America. Largely not the Central America of luxe places like Cabo (for all the Mexican it isn't); lovely though, for sure.


It was my job to run around in the outlying areas negotiating for things that would constitute factories and workforces and for a time I hung about it some rather unsavory tribal areas of the Mexican states which were great (for the food) but also challenging (regarding personal safety). I tried to think of the former and pretend to have little knowledge of the latter.

Fast forward, supermarket: Anywhere, USA. The person behind me inevitably wants to know what I have and secondly what I am going to do with them: Garam masala. Coconut milk. What have you.

Yesterday, it was the tamarind pods. There were huge baskets of them in the store, fresh and beautiful. "Tamarind. For drinks." I answered.

"Wow." She said, "Like another language."

"Right." I said with a raised eyebrow, you know, because it is. Lordy.

Moving on. I use Rick Bayless's books on Mexican food because his cooking is the closest I have found to true Mexican (which has no relationship with your local Chili's, trust me on this) regional cooking. Much of the food is spicy and hot-flash inducing so, it is helpful and kind to roll out cooling drinks and cocktails.

Aguas frescas, as a drink class in Central America, were the precursor to sodas and remain the wealthier, better looking, more amusing cousin from out of town which sells itself in street stalls all over in its hometown. Essentially, they are drinks easily prepared in the traditional way by mashing fruit with a fork before mixing it with water and sugar. There is a long list of varieties, but the bigs are lime, melon, hibiscus flower, guava, and tamarind.

Refreshing, yes. But, more importantly, they make sense with the food the way red wine makes sense with smoked fresh mozzarella and sage in Tuscany. Somethings were made for one another: agua fresca tamarindo and the blazing Northern ancho chili dishes; and it does not matter if you are watching a snowstorm from a window in Middleburg, Va. Oreo = milk. And that, is just the way it is.

Agua fresca tamarindo and the accompanying cocktails take a couple of hours of inactivity depending on the freshness of the beans. Leave at least an hour, but better if it is two, for the beans to soak. Your patience will be rewarded. Once you have made the master recipe for the water, you can put it in the fridge and use it the next day, the cocktails below are loose, delicious additions to agua fresca tamarindo.

I suggest you make something spicy and authentic and find yourself a good blizzard in which to enjoy these as alternatives to margarita's (which cannot say for themselves that they are high in vitamin B and calcium like the tamarind fruit if you needed one more reason to start steeping exotic pods).

Agua fresca tamarindo

1 pound fresh tamarind pods
Sugar (about 1 cup)
Water to cover

*these ingredients may be reduced in proportion

Rinse tamarind pods. Bring 2 quarts water and the sugar to a boil in a medium pot and add pods. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until just tender and the water is brown, about 15 minutes. Mash the pods, seeds, and pulp gently with a fork. Allow to sit steeping for at least an hour, if not two.

Strain through a fine sieve, pressing hard on the tamarind to extract as much essence as possible, into a 3-quart pitcher.

Taste and adjust the sweetness to your taste but go easy, it should be tart and sweet all at once. Refrigerate until you are ready to serve and stir before pouring.
I prefer mine over ice with a lemon wedge.

Blushing's Virgin Tamarindo
for one cocktail

2 parts agua fresca tamarindo
1 part ginger ale
1 wedge of lemon

I don't stir or shake, but you know your rights; you can do what you want.

Blushing's Tamarindo
for one cocktail

2 parts agua fresca tamarindo
1 part dark rum
Splash ginger ale

Combine the agua fresca tamarindo, rum, and ginger ale in a cocktail shaker with two ice cubes. Shake quickly and pour into a rocks or martini glass and garnish with a twist.

Blushing's Dark and Stormy Tamarindo
for one cocktail

Lime wedge
2 parts agua fresca tamarindo
1 part dark rum
Splash ginger beer

In a double old fashioned glass, muddle the lime gently only to extract juice. Add a few ice cubes, the agua fresca tamarindo, dark rum, and ginger beer. Stir gently. Garnish with more lime if you wish.


Blue said...

I woke up early today and found this about tamarinds. The drinks sound wonderful and this weekend if I can find tamarinds I shall try the fresca. Wonderful.

EntertainingMom said...

Lovely! And I love your oreos and milk analogy... true, yes, somethings are meant to be!

mespetites said...

Ah I love guava aguas frescas!

LPC said...

Out here in CA we have Agua Fresca with tacos on every corner. Tamarind, Jamaica, etc. Num. And I love Rick Bayless. Did you see him on Top Chef Masters? He's also just such a nice man.

Butler said...

Great post. My wife is Mexican and I'm fortunate to have great Mexican food and drink often! I've never made my own tamarindo, but I'll give it a try and break out a bottle of rum!

Clementina said...

Have you ever had a glass of garnet hued agua de jamaica? It is one stunning drink that is not to be missed!
"A Little Cup of Mexican Hot Chocolate"

home before dark said...

The drinks sound interesting, but I'd like to hear more about your South American adventures. You've been a bold, bold girl!

Lisa said...

Please don't tell me you you hung around Mexico because "It was my job to run around in the outlying areas negotiating for things that would constitute factories and workforces" doing these things for Talbots???!!!. I seem to remember that you worked for them. I guess if the answer is in the 'affirmative', it's just in the nature of business these days and ultimately the bottom line. After I got past these thoughts, the rest of the post sounded so good because I realized I probably needed a good drink to face 'reality'. Love your blog and still love Talbots. Ah, such is life.

The Blushing Hostess said...

Blue - I hope it is a wonderful weekend, tamarind and otherwise.

EMom - Thanks, and I loved the letter to your children in kind!

Mespetites - I had one, and it was not in Mexico, it was in a spa in Florida. I have to say, I will have to try it again...

LPC - Each day I have new reason to be jealous.

Butler - I am posting some of the accompanying recipes at Cooks, I hope you and she will let me know what you think!

Home - I worked for a young guy who believed in (ad)ventures in resourcing as well as food and drinks. Will try to include those and nun stories for you in the future -and hoping you are well.

Clementina - heard of it as they make it in a restaurant in NYC but have not had the pleasure. If you have a recipe, please send it along and I will link to you.

Lisa - Talbots: Could not tell you what they did in Mexico but my product lines and directorship in the 5 years after leaving there were largely in this hemisphere and Taiwan. I wore a limited amount of the clothing but in truth no longer buy the brand; I felt there were ways around laying off as many as they did. A lot of bright talented people went down in that fight, and having seen a large staff through a business period as difficult as the one they faced, I have a hard time getting behind it now... If only out of loyalty to people who deserved something better. Regarding whether it is just business: There are so many good examples (ie Containter Store) of sucessful (bottom line driven)retailers who are also dedicated humanitarians where their employees (and their livlihoods) are concerned...

As for the adventures in CA and SA, I loved them, would not trade them.