1.5 oz Pusser’s Rum
1.5 oz Agua de Tamarindo (recipe below)
3 – 4 oz Club Soda, to top
Add all ingredients to a collins glass with ice
Garnish with a lime wedge
* * *
Without tequila among our bottles, you might be inclined to think that 12 Bottle Bar would sit out Cinco de Mayo. In fact, when we’ve asked the experts, a few of them have suggested that we replace one of our bottles with one from south of the border. While we certainly love tequila (in particular, great mezcals), we hold to the belief that its use in classic cocktails is limited. Besides, if you’re craving a taste of Mexico, there are so many other beverages to explore – like agua de tamarindo.
I can safety say that tamarind pods are among the strangest ingredient we’ve ever worked with. Beneath their egg-like shell is a sticky pulp that covers a handful of hard seeds. When we bought them at our local Mexican grocer, they were packed into large bins, and we were hesitant to thrust our hands in to pick them out, as they looked less like a mound of tasty fruit than discarded and dead tree trimmings. Still, they’re a Mexican staple, and we were determined that if we were to make agua from them, it would be from scratch.
If you look at a map, it becomes readily apparent why tamarind plants would have been transplanted from North and Central Africa to Mexico, as the two regions – along with the Indian subcontinent, where the plant has also been naturalized – share a common latitudinal range. As for how the plants arrived in the New World, the seeds most certainly came aboard colonial and slave ships heading from the West African coasts, where tamarind trees grow in abundance. Given its immense popularity in Southeast Asia, tamarind is often referred to as the “Indian date”. In many ways – especially if you consider the sticky pulp of the pods alone, which is very date-like – this is understandable, but the plant is actually a legume of the Fabacecae family, which also includes soybeans, peas, beans, and peanuts. It’s the pulp – sandwiched between the hard shell, twine-like threads, and a cartilage-esque inner core – which must be harvested. After picking up a few pods and having a go at cracking and peeling, you’ll quickly give up – it’s an almost impossible task (or, at least, a frustrating one). No need to fret, as there is a simple solution, which we provide in the recipe below.
It’s the exotic taste of tamarind, however, that makes it worth the trouble. The best way to describe the flavor is as a combination of date (hence, the above misconception) and citrus. Around the world, it is used in foods both savory and sweet from Imli Chatni (an Indian chutney) and Worcestershire Sauce to Mexican candies and aguas frescas, or sweet fruit drinks. It’s in this latter group – a simple combination of fruit, sugar, and water – that we find agua de tamarindo, which is often sold in taquerias and the like as a tart, refreshing cooler. Today, you can even buy it in bottled pop form from the Jarritos Company.
What we particularly love about agua de tamarindo is its ease in making (trust us, despite what we said above) as well as the fact that it can be deliciously consumed sans alcohol, should you desire, or quickly boozed up, as we’ve done here. With the addition of a little rum, some club soda, and a squeeze of lime – taking its influence from the rickey family of drinks – you have one of the quickest tiki drinks under the sun. The profile of the tamarind is so complex and marries so well with rum (if you don’t have Pusser’s, it shouldn’t stop you from using your favorite), that it may become our summer cooler of choice. The result is something close to Grog – tart and astringent, yet absolutely refreshing.
Our recipe for the drink is completely flexible – add more or less of any of the ingredients as desired – and if you keep the agua de tamarindo in the fridge (we’re not yet sure how long it lasts; be your own judge), you can throw a few glasses together whenever company pops ‘round. The uncomplicated, yet completely tropical nature of this one takes me back to days spent on the beaches of Baja, where life moves at a much slower pace. Salud!
Agua de Tamarindo
We used a Rick Bayless recipe, but unlike most folk drink recipes, this one seems to be pretty consistent wherever you look. The recommendation here is for traditional Mexican piloncillo, but any brown sugar will work.
8 large fresh tamarind pods (with brown flesh, if some of the shell is missing, that’s okay)
0.5 Cup brown sugar (piloncillo)
1 Quart of filtered water
- As best you can, remove as much of the shell and strings from the tamarind pods, being sure to leave all the sticky flesh. If the pods break, that’s okay. If some shell and strings remain, that’s fine too.
- Bring the quart of water to a boil.
- Add pods and sugar (if using piloncillo, you may need to chop it up in order to measure it) to the boiling water.
- Return to a boil and let everything boil again for one minute.
- Remove from heat and pour everything into a non-reactive bowl.
- Let sit for approximately 2 hours.
- Scrape the tamarind flesh from the pods using a spoon or your hands (hands are easier; wash them first, of course).
- Strain the mixture through a fine strainer, pressing out as much liquid from the solids as possible.
- Store in the refrigerator, and stir well before using.