Tamarind, a distant relative to the string bean, is used widely throughout the world. It’s known as kok mak kham by the Laotians, sbar by the Arabs, tamarindo by the Italians and Japanese. The Brits call it an Indian Date, and it has an exciting potential in new North American cooking as it welcomes more chiles, also dishes sweet and sour.
Recently, in an article in the Nation’s Restaurant News, cookbook author Florence Fabricant states, “Tamarind’s time is coming. With the recent interest in Indian food and increasing taste for Indian flavoring in American food, tamarind may soon be right up there with ginger, lemon grass and wasabi.” Fabricant was referring to tamarind’s uniquely sweet-tart flavor. Popular in Asia, China the Caribbean and Africa, “It’s made to order for fusion cooking,” Fabricant says.
Tamarind’s history is ancient. First found in Eastern Africa, tamarind now grows in all tropical areas and is the most important spice to originate in Africa. The tamarind fruit was well known to the ancient Egyptians and the Greeks as far back as the 4th century BCE.
The tree, massive and ornamental in a feathery way, is prized for its beauty and bean-like pods. Annually each tree produces three to five-hundred pounds of four to six-inch pods. Inside the grayish/brown pods a bittersweet pulp surrounds bean-like seeds. Pods are then compressed into blocks or cakes.
The cakes are layered with sugar in boxes, covered with a cloth and kept in a cool, dry place. To store for long periods, the blocks of tamarind pulp must be steamed or sun-dried for several days. Tamarind cakes need to be soaked before using. Tamarind concentrate in jars is also available in Asian grocery stores.
Along with its sweet and sour flavor, tamarind is high in acid as well as sugar. One cup of raw pulp has approximately 285 calories, 75 g. carbohydrate, 88.8 mg calcium, 753 mg potassium, 4.2 mg vitamin D, 135 mg. phosphorus, 16.8 mcg folate, a tract of fat and no cholesterol.
Worcestershire Sauce contains tamarind, also anchovies. To use the tamarind cakes, place tamarind pods in pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, remove from heat and soak pods in water pods overnight. Press out all the juice from the pulp. Use the strained pulp in recipes calling for tamarind extract or paste.
HERE’S SOME SUGGESTED USES:
· Combine with meat or lentils, chick peas or beans
· Enhance marinades, reduction sauces and soups. It intensifies the color while adding acidity and sweetness.
· Tamarind barbecue sauce chars up nicely. A sauce for ribs can be tamarind, tomatoes, brown sugar, coriander and Szechwan pepper.
· Glaze meats, ribs, fish, seafoods with tamarind.
· Add to vegetable dishes, chutneys and salsas. Also use it when braising.
· Use it in jams, sorbets, chutneys dipping sauces and condiments.
· In India the pulp of dried tamarind – a major ingredient in spice mixtures – is also used in salads, broths and purees of dried vegetables.
· Mix cubed tofu with fresh vegetables, pineapple chunks and shredded ginger. Top it with a tamarind sauce.
· Makes a delicious additive for margaritas and Bloody Marys.
· Use it as a substitute for balsamic vinegar.
· Make a paste of ground onions, garlic, ginger and spices for Vindaloo pork. Stew with tamarind water until tender.