Prasadam - Tamarind, Part Two


Sep 22, 2016 — CANADA (SUN) — A journey through India: border to border, bhoga to prasadam.

Tamarind pods are light brown to cinnamon colored, with a thin brittle shell similar to a peanut. The inner fruit is a reddish dark brown pulp that surrounds several large seeds. The pulp is fibrous and sticky, and is often sold in blocks still containing the fiber and seeds. A more prepared version of tamarind is also readily available, this one being a concentrated dark paste from which all the fibrous pieces are eliminated. You can also buy tamarind in whole pods, either fresh or dried, or peeled and deseeded.

When using the fibrous tamarind either fresh or in a prepared block, you'll generally want to soak the fruit in a little hot water, squeezing out and reserving the tamarind juice and throwing the pulp and seeds away. When using prepared tamarind be careful not too use too much. A tablespoon of the concentrated paste compared to a tablespoon of liquid from the bulk tamarind will add far more acidic kick, and can easily overpower a dish.

Tamarind slabs and paste have a very long shelf life, and the stored dried pods, once mascerated (soaked), will still release high quality juice. In fact, the pods are often left hanging on the tree for as long as six months after ripening, where they sun-dry and naturally dehydrate. The light, hollow-sounding pods are then stored until ready to use.

In India, and in the larger Asian groceries in the west, you can sometimes find fresh tamarind leaves. They're a palatable vegetable green when young and tender, and can be prepared like other leafy greens. The leaves of the Tamarind tree are like those of the Mimosa, which curl up when touched. The Tamarind's feathery leaves fold up at night. Various stories are told about why Tamarind leaves behave this way, and one explanation is that the leaves were once split by arrows shot from Lakshman's bow.

A Tamarind Tree at Allahabad
Painting by Sita Ram, c. 1815

There is an interesting story about tamarind seeds from the life of Sri Madhvacarya who, as a child, is said to have transformed the large round seeds into gold coins, to repay a debt that was causing his father anxiety. Srila Prabhupada mentions this story in his purport to Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya 9.245.

In Vaisnava literature we find numerous references to the noble Tamarind tree, with several mentions regarding Lord Caitanya's pastimes. From Srila Prabhupada's purport to Srimad Bhagavatam 2.3.18:

    "At Vrndavana there is a tamarind tree (the place is known as Imlitala) which is said to have existed since the time of Lord Krsna. In the Calcutta Botanical Garden there is a banyan tree said to be older than five hundred years, and there are many such trees all over the world."

In Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya 18.70-79 we read:

    "Seeing a great crowd assemble at Mathura, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu left and went to Akrura-tirtha. He remained there in a solitary place. The next day, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu went to Vrndavana and took His bath at Kaliya Lake and Praskandana. After seeing the holy place called Praskandana, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu went to Dvadasaditya. From there He went to Kesi-tirtha, and when He saw the place where the rasa dance had taken place, He immediately lost consciousness due to ecstatic love. When the Lord regained His senses, He began to roll on the ground. He would sometimes laugh, cry, dance and fall down. He would also chant very loudly. Being thus transcendentally amused, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu passed that day happily at Kesi-tirtha. In the evening He returned to Akrura-tirtha, where He took His meal. The next morning Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu returned to Vrndavana and took His bath at Cira-ghata. He then went to Tentuli-tala, where He took rest. The tamarind tree named Tentuli-tala was very old, having been there since the time of Lord Krsna's pastimes. Beneath the tree was a very shiny platform. Since the river Yamuna flowed near Tentuli-tala, a very cool breeze blew there. While there, the Lord saw the beauty of Vrndavana and the water of the river Yamuna. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu used to sit beneath the old tamarind tree and chant the holy name of the Lord. At noon He would return to Akrura-tirtha to take lunch. All the people who lived near Akrura-tirtha came to see Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and due to the large crowds, the Lord could not peacefully chant the holy name."

Imlitala tamarind tree

There is a nice description of the pastimes surround the Vrindavan Imlitala tamarind tree on the website's guide to the Holy Dhama. The Tamarind tree currently growing, pictured below, is said to be a representative of the original tree.

    "When he was visiting Vrindavana, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu daily chanted japa at Imli Tala, which was located at that time right on the bank of the Yamuna. The small temple here, with its Gaura-Nitai and two sets of Radha-Krishna Deities commemorates His presence. Nowadays, the Yamuna has moved about a quarter of a kilometer away. Temples and residences now line the street on both sides of Imli Tala; when Caitanya Mahaprabhu chanted here, this part of Vrindavana was all forest.

    One story tells how Srimati Radharani cursed the tamarind tree at Imli Tala because as She was hurrying to meet Krishna, She stepped on the thick pod of a ripe tamarind fruit and cut Her foot. Because this slowed her down, She cursed the tree that its fruits would never ripen. (The pods of unripe tamarind fruits are soft and do not hurt when stepped on.) Even today, the fruits of this tree fall before they are fully ripe.

    Krishna also came to Imli Tala, and because of His ecstatic feelings of separation from Srimati Radharani, His black body turned golden. When Lord Caitanya chanted here, meditating on Krishna in Srimati Radharani's mood of separation, His golden body sometimes turned black.

    Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami writes in the Caitanya-caritamrita (Madhya 18.83-88): "After bathing in Kesi-tirtha, Krishnadasa [Rajput] went toward Kaliya-daha and suddenly saw Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu sitting at Imli Tala. Upon seeing the Lord's personal beauty and ecstatic love, Krishnadasa was very much astonished. Out of ecstatic love, he offered his respectful obeisances unto the Lord. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu then bestowed upon Krishnadasa His causeless mercy by embracing him. Krishnadasa became mad with ecstatic love and began to dance and chant the holy name of Hari." Later, Krishnadasa Rajput protected Sri Caitanya from a band of Mughal soldiers."

There is another interesting mention in Caitanya-caritamrta Adi 13.61of a tamarind tree in Radhadesa, Bengal. This place is called Amalitala (Imlitala), named for the big tamarind tree there. Nearby is the birthplace of Nityananda Prabhu. Another famous tamarind tree mentioned in Adi 11.26 is found in the village of Ambika-kalana, just across the Ganges from Santipura. This tamarind tree is in front of a temple constructed by the zamindar of Burdwan, and Mahaprabhu sat there with Gauridasa Pandit.

Chintachiguru Kobbari Pachadi
[Photos courtesty Sailau]

Following is a nice Andhra Pradesh recipe for a chutney made with tender young tamarind leaves:

Chintachiguru Kobbari Pachadi


    2 cups tender Tamarind Leaves
    1 cup grated Coconut
    1-2 Green Chilis
    Salt to taste

    For tempering:
    1/2 tsp Mustard seeds
    1/2 tsp split Black Gram (minappa pappu)
    a handful of fresh Curry Leaves
    1-2 dry Red Chilis, deseeded and minced
    pinch of Asafoetida
    1/2 tsp Ghee

Grind the tamarind leaves, coconut, green chilis and salt to a paste, adding scant water. In a little ghee fry the mustard seeds until they splutter, then add the dal and let it darken a few shades. Add the curry leaves, red chilis and asafoetida and fry for a few more seconds. Pour this seasoning over the pachadi (tamarind leaf paste) and offer alongside rice or bread.

Tamarind Rice

Here's another excellent Andhra Pradesh recipe, this one for a staple dish: tamarind spiced rice, featuring a great dose of the tart fruit essence:

Tamarind Pulihora


    Basmati Rice, 1-1/2 cups
    Mustard seeds, 1 Tblsp
    Red chilis, flaked, 1 tsp
    Channa dal, 2-1/2 Tblsp
    Urad dal, 2-1/2 Tblsp
    Peanuts, 2 Tblsp
    Cashews, 1 Tblsp
    Asofoetida, 1/4 tsp
    Curry Leaves, 8 to 12
    Green Chilis, 3-4
    Ginger, fresh, 1 inch
    Tamarind paste, 5 tsp
    Turmeric, 1 tsp
    Salt to taste
    Sesame seeds, powdered, 1-1/2 Tblsp
    Ghee for frying

Cook the rice and let cool so moisture evaporates and the grains separate loosely. In a little ghee fry the mustard seeds till they pop, then add the red chilis, channa and urad dals, peanuts and cashews, and fry till they darken a few shades. Next add the asofoetida, curry leaves, green chilis and ginger. Last, add the tamarind paste and turmeric. When the tamarind paste lets off oil, take pan off the heat. Add salt. Roast and grind the sesame seeds to a powder. Add the sesame to the spice mixture, then add the spices to the cooked rice. Offer warm or at room temperature, but don't refrigerate before serving as it will lose some of the taste.

Lentil Kofta in Tamarind Coconut Gravy

Lentil Kofta in Tamarind Coconut Gravy


    For the Sauce:
    1 can Coconut Cream
    3-4 Tblsp Coconut flakes (unsweetened)
    2 Tblsp Tamarind paste
    2 Tblsp Garam Masala powder
    1 Tblsp Coridander powder
    1 tsp Ginger powder
    1/4 tsp Nutmeg
    2 tsp Asafoetida
    ½ tsp Turmeric powder
    Salt and black pepper to taste

    For the Kofta:
    1 cup Red Lentils
    2 cups Water
    2 Bay Leaves
    1 tsp Asofoetida
    a pinch Salt
    1 Tblsp Cornmeal
    1 Tblsp Gram Flour (Besan)
    a handful Curry Leaves
    Ghee for frying

To make the sauce, combine the coconut cream, coconut flakes, tamarind paste and spices in a pot, stir well, and simmer until thickened to the desire gravy consistency.

To make the kofta, fry the Lentils in a little ghee, then add the water, bay leaves, asofoetida and salt, and boil gently until the lentils are cooked. Drain the excess liquid, and let the lentils cool, then add the cornmeal, gram flour and salt to get a stiff batter. Form balls the size of small limes, and pan fry the koftas in a little ghee until golden and crispy outside. Drain, place on a serving dish, cover with the tamarind gravy, and offer.


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