The other day, during my bidaily visit to the local grocer, my grocer and friend, Andrés, said, "Hey, Erik, come here for a second. I have something to give you." From its hiding place behind some yogurt in the display fridge, he pulled out three strange fruit pods. He explained that they are called tamarinds, and that they are native to Africa and are sort of a cross between a peanut and a date. I had never heard of such a thing, but he instructed me on how to peel and eat them, warning that the seeds are very hard and to be careful. When I got home, I got out my camera and cracked open a tamarind. The "date peanut" description is very apt. The fruit meat is very pulpy and sweet, and the seeds are hard as granite. Apparently to plant them, it's best to cut some grooves in the seeds to give the little sprouts inside a fighting chance of getting out of there. Some internet research shows that, while native to Africa and a favorite food of elephants, tamarind is most commonly used in Thai, Indian and Chinese cuisine, with some popularity in Mexico and Central America as well. They, along with anchovies, are also an ingredient in Worcestershire Sauce.
Let's be honest…they are a bit turdlike.
They're a lot bigger than peanuts. The pea is also clearly a relative.
The shell is quite thin and brittle.
The vine-looking part is also discarded, and you bite off each pulp-covered seed and use your olive-eating skills to clean all the pulp off the seed in your mouth.
I love trying new things and learning about new cuisines. I'm not a huge fan of dates, as they're too sweet for my taste – plus, I could never get one! [rimshot] – so I don't think I'd buy tamarinds for personal consumption, even if I could find them, but I'll definitely keep an eye out for restaurant dishes with them.