The Subtly Essential Ingredient for Equatorial Chefs

Episode 4 February 01, 2022 00:31:14
The Subtly Essential Ingredient for Equatorial Chefs
Fruit Love Letters
The Subtly Essential Ingredient for Equatorial Chefs

Show Notes

“Your tangy earthbound pulp, a portal to biological brilliance.”

Tamarind is a key ingredient to the wheelhouse of many equatorial chefs. This week, Jessamine gathers in conversation Sam Fore of Tuk Tuk Sri Lankan Bites in Lexington, Kentucky; Parnass Savang of Talat Market in Atlanta, Georgia; and Maricela Vega of Chico, also in Atlanta. All three chefs are combining their familiar homeland foods—from Sri Lanka, Thailand and Mexico—with their current surroundings in the American South. Despite using the same fruit, the different ways tamarind manifests in their unique recipes is a fascinating testament to their ingenuity.

Topics covered in this episode:

Learn more about this episode of Fruit Love Letters at, on IG and Twitter at @whetstoneradio, and YouTube at /WhetstoneRadio.

Guests: Sam Fore (@tuktuklex), Parnass Savang (@talatmarketatl), Maricela Vega (@chicoooatl)


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Episode Transcript

Speaker 0 00:00:00 Hey everyone. I'm Jesse Sparks host of the new podcast. The one recipe from the team behind the splinted table. This pod is all about that one recipe that you lean on. The one you share with friends, the one you make, when you need a little love. And the one, you know, will work every single time. Every week. I talk with chefs and gifted cooks from all over the world about their one and the story behind it. We're here to help you build your kitchen library. One dish at a time, follow the one recipe, wherever you get your podcast. Speaker 1 00:00:29 Have you ever wondered why rotisserie chicken is so cheap or whether eating a plant based burger can really help fight climate change? Or how about what labels to look for? To know which food is the healthiest or the best for the environment. If those questions intrigue, you try the new podcast. What you're eating from food Speaker 1 00:00:52 They connect the story behind your food, to what you eat every day. What you're eating helps you understand how food gets to your plate to see the full impact of the food system on animals, planet, and people from conversations with farmers and chefs, to discussions with policy experts on the barriers to sustainability food prints, new podcast covers everything from the why to the how join host Jerusha clipper director of food, every other week for new episodes and more answers to the question you have about what you're eating, listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcast or at food you're eating. Speaker 3 00:01:37 If we could just release the standard body geography, function, assignments, and agree that intelligence lies in the gut. In fact, most things that define person lay there, emotions, movement, memory, the building blocks of both our own and new life. Wrap your arms around the Naval here. Lay your foundation. Now do the same with the earth. An equatorial belt defined by the trap of Capricorn and cancer. This planetary sash is made of you tamarin. Originally an aply named the tree of life and your Sudanese Homeland. You quickly circumnavigate the tropics, the ingredient that adds instinctual depth to doll, reincarnate, memory to Vietnamese. Naung me sauce. The hips way to AUA Fresca, your Tany, earthbound, hope a portal to biological brilliance, a love most of us have without even knowing it. I love you. Speaker 3 00:02:59 I'm Justin star. You are listening to fruit. Love letters. Food for me is a way to express love. I'm a chef in Atlanta and I fold my feelings into the meals I cook for my family, my friends, even strangers. It can be hard for me to say, I love you, but you will know it when I serve you roasted golden beets with black Sesame and ginger dressing. But if I peel you an apple slice you a persimmon, pick you a Mulberry with my stained fingers. Then we'll both know it's really serious fruit of course have long been considered symbols of love, even aphrodisiacs on this show, I'm exploring our love of fruit and what it says about us. People on this episode, tamarin, Speaker 3 00:04:01 The word tamarin likely comes from Tamora Hindi, which means Indian dates in Arabic. But the tree is native to equatorial Africa. There are a couple different kinds of tamarin. One is sweet. One is sour, but it's actually a monotypic fruit. That means there's only one species of it. Incredibly, despite that it's cooked in wildly varying methods to punch up vastly different dishes, primarily by people living around the equator. So I wanted to talk to a few different chefs to hear how they incorporated this fruit in their dishes. I turned to chefs working in my little part of the world. The American south, the south is hot, humid, sticky tamarin, though. Not native fits right in here. And as the South's immigrant population grows, the taste of tamarin will become more common as vital as other Southern favorites like barbecue or sweet tea. I hope anyway. Okay. So the first chef I spoke with, Speaker 4 00:05:13 My name is Sam for, I am. The chef owner of took, took Sri Lanka bites based in Lexington, Kentucky. And I do popup Sri Lankan, Southern dinners all over the country. Speaker 3 00:05:22 Is it only Sri Lanka food or is it kind of a mashup of Sri Lanka and Southern food? Speaker 4 00:05:29 I like to think of it as an amalgamation of the two, because it's both where I was raised and where I'm from. And oddly enough, the two work perfectly well together. Speaker 3 00:05:38 Tell me a little bit about your background. How did you get into cooking? Speaker 4 00:05:42 I was born in Kentucky, raised in North Carolina. My parents came over here in the early seventies. There was a very large influx of south Asian immigrants in the medical professions in the early seventies, because those visas were very widely available. So you would have these small cultural pockets of Sri Lankan families that would kind of make do, because it's not like you come to Ohio with all the same ingredients in 19 72 73, that you would have in a kitchen in Sri Lanka. Moreover it's when the class divide kind of started to show and servants foreign cooking as much as families began to cook. And so there was this huge schism of knowledge because you'd have the people who were okay enough to come over here with 50 bucks or what have you, but then they would have no reference for their own food. And there's no way to get super fresh fish easily unless you're on the coast. Speaker 3 00:06:35 So the food like the immigrants, new environment begin to change while still retaining its cultural ties. Speaker 4 00:06:43 Everyone started to eat chicken. You know, people are living off of lentils. People are living off of everything. That's familiar, some aunties smuggles over Curry leaf tree and decides that she can find Tamin paste or find tain pods and boils 'em off and keeps them in her kitchen and a little jar to add some depth and dimension to our dishes. But that's how we learn how to cook. It's not just repetition or, or a Briga system or whatever it is straight up exposure to familial recipes and familial traditions and cultural traditions. And for a lot of the first generation American kids like myself, we were all encouraged to go into various and sundry professional realms. Not a lot of us started cooking. I was always cooking on the side and then it eventually became my full-time gig. Speaker 3 00:07:29 So today we're talking about tamarins do you have any tamarin memories or what was the first time you started to realize that it was a good ingredient to use? Speaker 4 00:07:40 I mean, your first taste of tamarin when you don't know what you're expecting is a little bit jarring. It is the slightest bit of sweet with some really punchy, overpowering sour, which I like now, but as a child was not my favorite thing, but you see it all over that sort of equatorial region between tamarin candy and various and sundry marinade sauces that are used in Latin America to going into Asia, south Asia, where we use it as a souring agent, sometimes even as a preservation agent and you can also see it used in, you know, desserts and such. It has so many versatile uses that. I think it's kind of like a, it, it is a secret weapon in my kitchen because I use it for everything from pork to onions, to making the cutest sweetest, little fruity tamarin amalgamation that is set to, wow. It has so many unexpected, like joyful moments in it, if you will. Speaker 3 00:08:38 So in your cooking, give me some examples how you use tamarin. Speaker 4 00:08:43 So the most common example of me using tamarin has been in Cini some onions, tamarin onions. I use them on everything I love to have 'em with coconut milk rice and just put a dollop on top or lately. It's been my grilled cheese go to because you just don't expect that brightness, that acidity, that crunch of an onion with that Tamin glaze, it changes the sandwiches. Identity completely. People will find more ways to combine balsamic and honey before they'll reach for the tamarin concentrate. And it's such a versatile and useful ingredient. It imparts, sourness and sweetness to the pork dishes I make. I use it with jackfruit to make it mimic big bold flavors. I use it for my Cini symbol to just accent, every condiment I have. And by cooking out just a little bit of the sourness that sweetness just intensifies just a little bit. So it creates just so much more depth for your bite. And I like to think of my quest and cuisine between both Sri Lanka and Southern as kind of this quest for a perfect bite. Speaker 3 00:09:50 What really peaked my interest is the CDEM. I wanna hear more about that and jackfruit cooking, tamarin and jackfruit. So tell me more. Speaker 4 00:10:00 So with Cini symbol, you take some Curry leaves, some chilies and some onions, and you'll cook them down until they're nice and soft, but then as they're starting to soften and take on, you know, everything else around it, all the flavors in the oil, you introduce a good dollop of tamarin. And as that cooks down, as that slowly, slow, slow, low cooking, caramelized onions, like, I mean almost student tea, caramelized onions to the point that you're caramelizing for like an hour, but it has this beautiful, sticky, spicy, amazing taste and texture with tamarin. It almost kind of takes on this sort of, I mean, I'm sitting here thinking of Ghostbusters <laugh> it has its own sort of Speaker 3 00:10:44 Ectoplasm. It Speaker 4 00:10:45 Bands together really well. Yeah. <laugh> and so it becomes its own thing. So you can put it on everything from, you know, your rice and curries to a plain piece of rotate. I still put it on toast in the mornings because I just think it's a good way to start the morning. You can also put it in your biggest meats, your biggest flavors, and it's strong enough to stand up for it for my Jack fruit Curry. I actually prepare it almost the same as a port Curry except sands any of the meat or animal byproducts because the texture of young Jack fruit really mimics that super super well. So if I put in a Curry powder blend that I do with some toasted CU, some toasted qu and or a little bit of fennel, Curry leaves, some cinnamon card blend all that up, throw in some black pepper and throw in just a good squeeze of tamarin and let it marinate into my meat. Speaker 3 00:11:34 Sam says, tamarin can also act as a bit of a tenderizer. Speaker 4 00:11:38 So you get a whole load of benefits from just introducing it for just a couple of hours. And there aren't a lot of ingredients that have that kind of versatility and utility to their like general uses. But when you throw it in with a really fatty meat, it cuts through that fat and really amps up the meat flavor and the spices, as best as I can think of it. It becomes a, a whole journey because of the tenderizing aspect too. Speaker 3 00:12:05 If you're not clear on it, yet Sam uses tamarin in a million different ways to achieve a million different effects in her food. Speaker 4 00:12:13 It is the furthest thing from a OneNote ingredient. It just adds a whole spectrum of color. Speaker 3 00:12:21 The next chef I spoke with is Perna Savan. He recently opened a restaurant called the lot market, not too far from my house. The first time I went there, I recognized the familiar to me Thai flavors, but it was like no other Thai food I'd ever eaten. It was so fresh with such depth of flavor. I asked him how he got started. Speaker 5 00:12:45 Well, I grew up in a Thai restaurant in the outskirts of Atlanta in this town called Lawrenceville. My mom and dad serves like Thai American food for that community. I didn't really enjoy working there when I was a kid, but I think as I grew up, I grew more of a appreciation for it. As I went into the food business, more, went to culinary Institute of America and Hyde park for two years. And then I came back down to Atlanta, worked at empire state, south Kimble house staple house. And then along this journey, I always wanted to eat really good Thai food, but it was never represented in Atlanta the way that I wanted to eat it. So I decided after working for other people, that I was gonna open my own idea, my own business. I had a dream of a restaurant, but it would take many more years before that. Speaker 3 00:13:44 So he started to pop up. Speaker 5 00:13:46 I was just happy to have my own kitchen be my own boss. And my friend, rod Laster joined me a couple weeks later and we were just having fun and making food. And then we got all this national recognition and I got a James Beard nomination to the thousand 18 for rising star chef. And I got all these other awards and I didn't feel like I was even ready yet, but the world wanted those flavors as I wanted those flavors in the city. And then we just opened a restaurant last year during the pandemic. And now that we are doing dine-in after all the, to go boxes that we've gone through, we've really built a foundation in the beginning that has become better and better. And we're understanding more of our food Thai food more these days. And it's delicious. Speaker 3 00:14:37 In some ways, the food he makes is recognizable to someone whose only knowledge of Thai food is for meeting in American Thai restaurants. Like the ones his parents operated, but there's also something vastly about it. He says it comes from trying to create flavors that his family might eat at home. That would be more recognizable to tie people. Speaker 5 00:15:00 I feel like most of my upbringing and observations of Thai people and food was just eating things that you have to work for it to enjoy it. That's what I've noticed a lot with eating fish with bones in or duck with bones in, and then tamarin sweet tamarin. They just crack it and you just kind ofaw on it and spit out the fibrous parts in the seeds. Speaker 3 00:15:26 Par has followed in this tradition of working hard to enjoy his food. Speaker 5 00:15:32 We do a lot of things from scratch that most Thai restaurants wouldn't do like coconut cream and milk or Curry past to name a few. I was obsessed with fresh coconut cream and milk for a very long time. And even during the popup, we would buy coconuts, brown coconuts and grind the meat out from the shells and hand pressed it ourselves until our hands were aching after a couple months. But that's why we've upgraded. And we have a hydraulic press now to aid in that endeavor of fresh coconut cream and finding dishes that you wouldn't find anywhere else in Thai restaurants. And that gets me excited to explore those. And that's what makes my food different from everybody else. Speaker 3 00:16:21 He also uses fresh ingredients from local farmers at fill out market. He learned to source his produce during his time working at other Atlanta restaurants, Speaker 5 00:16:31 Working at Kimble house. And all those other restaurants made me appreciate the local farmers in Atlanta. And like, I didn't know for a while that that existed in this town. So I got to see all this amazing produce come in and I try to find creative ways to incorporate that into the Thai flavors that I do know. Speaker 3 00:16:56 So this episode we're talking about tamarind, and I feel like it's a ingredient that so many people in the equatorial region use. It's such a common thing that gets slid in, but that so many people don't realize it's in there. And it's also really an important ingredient. You know, when a dish is missing it, but you don't know what it's missing. So how do you use tamarin? Speaker 5 00:17:23 There's two types of tamarins that we use. There's the sweet kind and the sour kind, but we usually use the sour version to add a certain acidity to the dishes that require it. That traditionally you would find in Thailand, for example, the papaya salad, the so thumb has tamarin in it. It's just like a splash. It's not the star. It supports the other acid that's in there, which is the lime juice there's tomatoes in that salad. That there's a little more acidity there. And then there's ma it's more of a Muslim style. Influenced Curry has a lot of spices compared to other curries and the Thai Curry repertoire. Speaker 3 00:18:10 Will you walk me through a little bit of how you make your ma Speaker 5 00:18:14 Yes. Speaker 3 00:18:15 Cause I think it's pretty special. Speaker 5 00:18:18 So we need these three things. We need the Curry past. We need the coconut milk slash cream, and then we need the vegetables and protein that goes into this dish. So with the Curry past, we grill all of our shallots, the garlic, the galangal, the chilies. And then we add a bunch of spices like mace nutmeg cinnamon, also called bark card seeds, clove coriander, Cuban Maban is the most labor intensive Curry. Speaker 3 00:18:57 They add the scratch made coconut cream slash milk, the potato, some sort of onion, braised chicken or beef. Speaker 5 00:19:06 And then we go to the seasoning, which is fish sauce, Palm sugar, and tamarin. Speaker 3 00:19:12 So it comes in at the end, kind of Speaker 5 00:19:14 Yes. Tamarin is a sourness that when you cook it, it doesn't fade like lime. It fades. But with tain, the acidity stays the same. We don't introduce that at all in the, the beginning, but at the end we finish it with tamarin. It's very subtle. It's not like this is a tamarin Curry. There are other curries that do use tamarin as like the forefront. I don't remember what it is, but I remember there was a recipe that called for tain leaves. Speaker 3 00:19:45 Oh, I didn't realize that you could eat the Tamin leaves. Speaker 5 00:19:48 Yeah. It's almost like SORL, it's like sour, but it still has that Tamin note in the green form. And then some people finish soups with it, almost like putting herbs in a soup. And then there is the immature unripe tamarin, the green one Uhhuh I've bought it once. And I didn't know what to do with it. There's like relishes that people make and Thailand with that, Speaker 3 00:20:15 He says one thing about cooking Thai food. The way he does is that he can't always get the ingredients he wants. At least not to the standards. He keeps mango is an example. In some cases it limits what he can put on the menu, but it also keeps his produce and his dishes fresh and flavorful as a result, what he serves is thoroughly tied yet tied to the place where he cooks Atlanta. Still. He says what's available is always changing as local growers and importers respond to the demands of changing demographics. He says increasingly once hard to find produce is becoming available locally. And that includes tamarin products. Speaker 5 00:21:01 I can't wait to see like tamarin leaves and green tamarin and more tain products in like briefer highway farmer's market or DeKalb. Speaker 3 00:21:11 And I can't wait to see what he makes with them. The next chef I talk to is Marcella LaVega. Speaker 6 00:21:20 I am from Atlanta and I run a business called Chico what our main focus is, needs Tama products. So we make everything from tortillas. Tamales is what I'm most known for. We also make sous Lagos, SOTA, basically anything with ma is gonna be our forte. And as I mentioned, we're based here in Atlanta and we plan to sort of be distributing these goods throughout the regional Southeast. My influences stem from my family, who in Guanajuato, Mexico dedicated themselves to growing MUA, peanuts and garbanzos amongst other crops in the Southern volcanic portion of Guana. WATO Speaker 3 00:22:06 Guanajuato is in central Mexico, straddling the Dr. Country to the north and the Lusher climates to the south. It's known for its agriculture. Speaker 6 00:22:17 The best way that I can describe it is we're on an old volcanic basin, which means that there's so many gorgeous Hills that just spill into a lagoon that you can see it's called lake wheat, sail and lake wheat. Sail is at the border of Mitra gone and Guanajuato. So where we are, you're washing dishes and you just sort of see this like gorgeous blue sky and then like the river and the lakes. And of course you have the Hills and the agriculture that are just sort of surrounding that. So our hus are often blue and green there. It's just a beautiful region. I think Speaker 3 00:22:53 Like Paron, who's also in Atlanta and Sam four Mariella likes to explore what the produce farmers in her region can supply for her business. She blends locally available ingredients with Mexican ones to make her rich flavors Speaker 6 00:23:10 A very unique piece about Chico is that while we do work with a lot of small co-ops that are stemmed in Mexico and various states, we also work with a lot of farm partners in state, as well as any states surrounding Georgia. So we incorporate our roots along with how we were raised here in the south. So there's a big intersection of that, even in things like Ulta is something that we always have growing up, which is sweet potatoes, but it's a big crop here in the south as well. So one of our big fillings and sauces is actually made with sweet potato and then peppers. We will get dried peppers. We do get dried peppers, but we also work with whatever peppers are available here in the south. And sometimes that's, Aons often of course, jalapenos. Speaker 3 00:24:01 And then of course there's tamarin. It's not grown around here, but sometimes she can find fresh tain at the local market. And sometimes not, Speaker 6 00:24:12 I don't use it enough. And I think it's just because even sometimes at the cabin it's sold out, I was looking for it two weeks ago and I couldn't find it. Speaker 3 00:24:21 Do you always use the pods? Do you ever use the paste? Speaker 6 00:24:25 I usually like to use the pods and I like to get both the two kinds that they offer at the DeKalb market. Speaker 3 00:24:31 Cause there's a sweet kind and then a tart kind, right? Speaker 6 00:24:35 Yeah. So I like both and just playing with the different levels to manipulate whatever it is that I'm making. But yeah, I think it's like a great way to get acid. Sometimes if you're not wanting to use even lemon or lime or apple CI or vinegar, and I just love to cook with acidity. So that's sort of why I really respect it. Speaker 3 00:24:57 Would you share a recipe for how you've been using it lately? Speaker 6 00:25:01 Presently, especially because beet season's about to be happening. And I feel like beets are around two times a year. I was sitting on a excess amount of beets and just trying to figure out how I could make a salsa and that first cold frost. So struggling with like, man, what, what can we do? Well, I roasted a bunch of beets. Here's like a quick recipe. It could probably take about a pound of beets, roast them up, just like in the oven, either salt roasted or maybe with a little bit of water and some spices. And then I blended that up with just like a saline solution of guillo peppers. And in that saline solution, I separated some of that salt water to kind of steep the pod. And that's how I found is the easiest way to remove it. And I guess just, just sort of explains why Tamao is so often considered subtle because it, it's kind of hard to eat it off of the pod and while you can, and I have, it's easiest to just extract it. So that's what I do is I soften up that pod and then I basically am left with this water and I just try to clear it up with the shell as much as possible. And I take that sort of past and I blend it with the guillo maybe some Comy garlic and some raw garlic as well as probably like a half a onion blend that up. I probably have some toasted clothes, black pepper, coriander and Cooman. And next thing I knew I had a really tasty salsa, Speaker 3 00:26:31 All this talk of salsas and tamales got me daydreaming about my favorite Mexican treat mango NAS. Often they come with this straw, but it is a straw that has tamarin paste, a really thick paste mixed with sugar and chili. So it's sweet, it's salty, it's spicy, it's chewy, and it is delicious. And when served in a mango NATO, which is essentially a mango smoothie, it goes so good with the cold sweet drink. Speaker 6 00:27:08 We used to just buy the straws and the candy and not at them. And that was our very unhealthy way of having Thedo. And that was ah, Bupa something. I think there's a specific little brand that is like a, I don't know, Speaker 3 00:27:24 Are they the little balls? Speaker 6 00:27:26 They have the little balls, but then there's like a little strip kind of like a fruit roll up or something of Damo as well. My other favorite way of having the is in bunches. So the bunches are traditionally served during the holidays when they start to do the Al. So it's just like the X amount of nights of Christmas or something like that. But basically you make this Bunchee and they can typically have like Dees their fruits from a Hawthorne tree, a Mexican Hawthorne tree. Speaker 3 00:28:04 The Hawthorne is native to Mexico and makes a fruit that looks like apples, but very small, it's usually yellow or orange and tastes bittersweet. Speaker 6 00:28:15 So you put TECO ES in, I think they're usually dried also raisins, sugar cane, Gus, and then tamarine pods, apples, citrus. Everybody has kind of like their own recipe, but you generally do see tamarine guava and take ahol this as well as a sugar cane, you kind of let that cook for about an hour on low. And if you want, you can spike it, but we never really spiked it. It was just so good on its own. And it's just like a fruit punch and you get a little bit of everything. And so you have the sugar cane too, to kind of like, not at, and yeah, you're just sort of gnawing at all the fruits and also sipping this hot, almost tea in a way. And it's very delicious to kind of have the different profiles, the Thama, no will hit you too. And the sourness, and then you'll get chased by the guava as well. And then meanwhile, you're knowing at the sugar cane. So it's just like pop, pop, pop <laugh>. Yeah. So you could see why. Okay. I love the candy, but I do love the punchy as well, Speaker 3 00:29:23 Three chefs with three different backgrounds and very different ways of using tamarin. I wanted to talk to dozens of more chefs from places where tamarin is a staple from central and south America, other parts of Asia and the Indian subcontinent, as well as the fruit's original home in equatorial Africa. Next time I hope meanwhile, I wanted to share a personal favorite way of using tamarin Inspired by the spicy sweet and sometimes salty tamarin treats of Mexico. I love to make tamarin cayenne, honey, you simply mix a spoon of tamarin paste in a dash of cayenne into your honey of choice. And if you're feeling adventurous, a dash of soy sauce or miso, you can store this indefinitely in the fridge and drizzle over fruit or toast, but it is excellent on buttered cornbread, roasted sweet potatoes, grilled salmon, or fried egg. You can even add a bit to sauteed bitter greens like kale or mustard greens. That's it for this episode, thanks to our guests, Sam for par Savan and Mari Vega. You can subscribe to fruit love letters anywhere you get your podcasts, and we'll be back next week. With more love letters to fruit, Speaker 3 00:31:03 Fruit love letters is part of what stone radio collective. Thank you to the fruit love letters, team producer, audio editor, Bethany sands researcher, Carolyn Crosby, and intern indigo Clarkson. I'd also like to thank what stone founder, Steven Satterfield Westone radio collective executive producer, Celine Glaser sound engineer, max cold check associate producer, Quintin, Lebo, and sound intern Simon lavender I'm Justin star. Thanks for listening to fruit of letters. You can learn more about this [email protected] at Instagram and Twitter at Wetstone radio And subscribe to our YouTube channel Wetstone radio collective for more podcast, video content, You can learn more about all things [email protected]

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