Tho and Le opened their salon just about a year ago and are working hard (as in 12 hours a day, 7 days a week) to build up a clientele. Tho and I hit it off immediately and we have formed an unlikely friendship. I visit her about once a week just to chat and we ended up exchanging Christmas gifts. I gave them some of my homemade boeterkoek and she gave me a box of these:
Somewhere in our many conversations I had shared that I loved tamarind candy, but that is not what this is! This is whole tamarind and I hadn't a clue what to do with it. Thanks to the internet I learned that I could make tamarind paste or chutney by processing the pods. If you've had pad thai, then you've at least had a taste of tamarind paste as it's one of the ingredients in the sauce. It's a uniquely sweet/sour combination that I love. The candy is the seeds which are coated with the "meat" (inside the pods) and then rolled in crystallized sugar, you suck on the seeds until all the meat and sugar melt in your mouth...YUM! I digress.
So, in order to process these pods I had to crack the hard shells
and then remove the "meat"-covered seeds and the fibers that surrounded them
then I had to soak the pods in water for most of a day to soften the meat so I could separate it from the seeds. Once I had the meat separated I cooked it with a bit of the water I soaked the seeds in and added some spices and voila, I have tamarind chutney.
I am looking forward to how my friendship with Tho and her family (she has a son who is a sophomore in high school and a daughter who is in 6th grade) will grow in this new year. For those of us who take our native born freedoms for granted, it is humbling to see how hard people work to make new lives for themselves. Tho did not want her daughter to grow up under the oppressive paternalistic and communistic society that her country struggles under. She misses her family so much, but wants a better life for her children....don't we all!