Sweet Tamarind Drink (Nuoc Da Me)
Nước đá me, literally "tamarind ice cubes" in Vietnamese, is a fairly common drink in Vietnam. It's served in various ways, such as with salted key lime rind preserves, but today I made it with fresh pineapple purée. It's sweet and tart at the same time but most important, it's so refreshing!
Tamarind is quite popular in Asian and South Asian cooking. I usually eat the fresh pods as they are, and use tamarind concentrate or tamarind powder for cooking.
Yields: 8 servings6 cups water
1-1/2 cups fresh pineapple, peeled, halved, cored and cut into 1-inch chunks
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
9 star anise pods, whole
5 cinnamon sticks
1-1/4 cups superfine sugar
1 pinch sea salt (or regular salt)
2/3 cup tamarind paste
For the pineapple: In a blender or a mini-blender if you have one, blend the pineapple chunks with vanilla extract. Add a little water if the blender doesn't flow smoothly.
For the cinnamon and star anise: Slightly crush 1 stick of cinnamon and 1 star anise, using a hammer / meat pounder. Set aside.
For the simple syrup: In a saucepan, make simple syrup by dissolving the sugar in about 1 cup of water.
Infusing the syrup: Add 1 whole star anise pod and the crushed stick of cinnamon. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 2 minutes. Lower the heat to low and let simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove from the stove and cool completely. Add the tamarind concentrate, pineapple purée and a pinch of salt.
Filtering: Strain the liquid through a fine mesh sieve. Discard the cinnamon and star anise remnants. Dissolve the syrup with the remaining water.
A sweet touch : Half the rest of the cinnamon sticks. Wrap each piece with a string of raffia. Decorate each glass with the cinnamon raffia ribbon.
You can find tamarind concentrate in any Asian store. It has a nice tart flavor. You can also use fresh tamarind pods if you like but I find this to be labor intensive. Wash about a pound of tamarind pods, with its skin still on. Boil them in about 4 cups of water for 15 minutes until soft. Drain and discard the liquid. Shell, seed and remove the fibrous membrane. Blend the tamarind pulp with about 1-1/2 cup of water and add to the cinnamon and star anise-infused syrup. But like I said earlier, I just prefer eating fresh tamarind as is and cook with tamarind concentrate or tamarind powder.
I prefer using superfine sugar. It's fine-grained sugar and it dissolves much more quickly than the regular granulated kind.
Pineapple is still in season, so take advantage of it and use fresh pineapple.
Quick reminder on how to cut a pineapple: Pineapple is very common in Asian cuisine, both in savory (such as sweet and sour pineapple soup, canh chua in Vietnamese) and sweet dishes such as my grilled pineapple and mascarpone cream dessert. My mom taught me at early age how to cut a pineapple. There is a way to slice a pineapple without "wasting" it, as mom would say. First, the most important thing is to use a very sharp chef's knife. Remove and discard the crown and cut off the base of the pineapple. Place the pineapple upright and strip the skin off. The peel shouldn't be too thick; you should still be able to see the eyes of the fruit. Remove the eyes of the fruit 2 by 2 diagonally all around the pineapple, creating several spirals. Quickly rinse the fruit under running water to remove any of the peel. Horizontally slice the fruit into 1-1/2 inch disks. Voilà! You'll never buy canned pineapple again .
Published By: on September 10, 2009.