The tamarind tree is not native to the subcontinent, although its history there is very ancient. It originally came from Africa, and was introduced from Europe into Mexico in the 16th century, where it is now cultivated. It is also grown in the West Indies.
It is mentioned in the Hindu epic the Ramayana, which dates back to the 4th century BC. There it is written that its leaves were split by the hero, Lakshmana, hence their appearance. Krishna is said to have had an intense spiritual experience while sitting in the shade of the tamarind tree. He had become separated from his beloved Radha and as he was sitting, he was infiltrated by her spirit, which permeated his whole being.
It is believed to be an unlucky tree, as it is associated with Yama, the god of death; its name in Sanskrit is Yamadutika, or the messenger of death. It is considered to be unlucky and unsafe to sleep under a tamarind tree, perhaps because it makes the soil high in acidity, so that few plants can grow under it. Its leaves fold at night, and even now some people believe that the tamarind trees are haunted by ghosts of the departed, so stay away form it at night.
Tamarind can be used as a dye, red coming from the leaves and yellow from the flowers. It’s used in turmeric and henna based hair dyes to boost the colour. Indian silversmiths use an infusion of the roots to clean their wares. It’s used to make varnish and a gum used for binding watercolour paints, used to paint miniatures in Iran and the subcontinent. Extract of the tamarind’s fruit and leaves are used in cosmetics, body lotions, soaps etc. The tamarind tree is host to lac insects, whose shells are used to make shellac. (The same is true of the Banyan tree, or Bohar tree as it’s called in Urdu.) The wood from the tree is also used in construction and fuel for fuel. Its leaves are used for animal fodder. People say that the honey produced from tamarind flowers is superb.
Of course tamarind is used in traditional medicine and Western research has now shown that it strengthens the immune system, can be effective in reducing fever and is good as a mild laxative. This research bears out what ancient medical practitioners believed. However in subcontinental traditional medicine, it is believed that tamarind can help treat diabetes and intestinal infections. To relieve fevers it is given in a drink made from milk, honey, lime and spices. The pulp from the seeds is mixed with salt and used as a gargle for sore throats. The leaves are boiled and applied to the joints to relieve swellings and sprains. These can also treat boils.These days young girls eat the sweet fruit as they are convinced that they will grow large breasts if they eat enough of it. They do this in secret though, as their mothers would take a dim view of this practice.
In most countries you can buy the sticky pulp made from the fruit of the tamarind, or the thick paste. When the fruit is picked unripe, the taste is sour, and this is what is made into the paste we flavour meat dishes with. It is used in Worcestershire sauce, and here it is used to make drinks, soups and dips, as well as an additional ingredient to savoury sauces.However, here in Pakistan we can eat the fresh,ripe fruit,which is sweet.Below is our own recipe for a savoury sauce that goes well with all types of meat and fish.
SPECIAL SWEET and SOUR SAUCE with IMLI (TAMARIND)
1 onion, finely chopped
3 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
6 green chillies, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ inch ginger root, finely chopped
½ handful mint leaves, shredded
½ handful fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped
2 tbsps sugar
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsps oil
2 green cardamoms
salt to taste
2 tbsps fresh lemon juice
Heat the oil in a pan, and fry onion, garlic, ginger and green chillies for 5 minutes over a low heat. Add the tomatoes and cook for 3 mins.
Now add the sugar, garam masala, black pepper and salt and cook for a further 2 mins. Now pour in 2 glasses of water, the tamarind and green cardamoms.
Stir well and cook over a medium heat until the water has reduced, so that ½ a glass of liquid remains.
Remove from the heat and add the lemon juice and fresh herbs, and stir to mix well.
Cover the pan and leave to cool.
Serve cold with meat, chicken or fish. It goes with everything, and is really delicious.
This has Taste and is a Treat.
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