Tamarind, translated literally as Indian date, is used extensively in Sth Indian and SE Asian cooking. It is the brittle, dark brown pod of the tamarind tree, a tall shade tree, originally a native of East Africa. The Tamarind seeds pods look like wide beans and as they ripen, their sour green flesh turns a chocolate colour -a sour fleshy and sticky pulp that is dried with or without the large seeds intact.
Tamarind adds a pungent, lemony sweet-sourness to dishes, especially to sambar, rasams and chutneys. It gives a tremendous lift to the dish, in the same way that kokum, yoghurt, sourish tomatoes and sour pomegranate seeds do in other parts of India and sumac does in the Middle East. It is used extensively in South India and Sri Lanka.
You can purchase tamarind as a pod, dried in blocks or as a concentrate in jars, from Asian and Indian groceries. In many places it is harder to get the pod. The concentrate is most convenient but the dried blocks have better flavour.
To make tamarind juice, measure the dried pulp and soak it in hot water for 10-15 minutes before squeezing it to extract the juice, discarding the seeds, fibre and any skin. As tamarind liquid keeps well in the fridge, larger lots can be made by simmering tamarind pulp in water (1 part tamarind to 3 parts water) for 30 mins, then pass through a coarse sieve. Discard the fibre and seeds and refrigerate the rest.
Tamarind is a mild laxative. In Ayurveda it is said to enhance the appetite and balance high pitta distortions caused by over exposure to the sun or pungent foods. Tamarind calms vata but can aggravate kapha if used to excess.
Kokum, or gambodge, is a fruit similar to an orange and is used as a souring agent in the same way as tamarind is. The fruit is bright orange when ripe but is used dried in cooking, when the fruit segments have shrivelled to small black leathery pieces. It is usually removed before eating.
Tamarind is ubiquitous in the cuisine of South India where many dishes will contain tamarind. Other dishes that feature tamarind can be found here.
Feel free to browse recipes from our Retro Recipes series – vegetarian recipes from our first blog 1995 – 2006. You might also like our Spice information here. Or you might like to browse our Indian Essentials series here. Check out our easy Indian recipes here and here.
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