Another in our series of helpful store-cupboard guides on what to do with obscure stuff that you buy on a whim or for just one ‘must-do’ Sunday supplement recipe. You know – the stuff that then loiters, accusingly, at the back of your pantry, whilst you wonder what on earth to do with the rest of it. Well, your favourite silly yellow cornershop is here to help.
Tamarind is that strange, alien, string-coated pod that appears in Indian and Chinese grocers. It is normally cheek-suckingly sour – although there are sweeter varieties – but it’s the kind of sourness that is unfathomably addictive. To get at the fresh pods, crack off the hard outer shell, and then peel off the inner ‘string’ casing. You can then suck them or soak them in boiling water before pressing them through a sieve to extract the paste. Be warned – there are big pips (which curiously explode if you happen to toss them into an open fire, said the voice of experience, randomly). But if you are cooking with them, it is probably far easier to use a block of tamarind (which is already skinned and pressed), or the concentrate (which is the easiest of all).
Here’s our top ten uses for your pantry tamarind stash:
- Add a little boiling water and stir into soups, hotpots and curries for a little hint of sharpness (not to mention a deeper and intriguing colour).
- Use in smoothies to provide contrast with the overbearing sweetness of a lot of ingredients. We use tamarind (and ginger) in our mango smoothies as mango and tamarind are quite simply a match made in heaven.
- Add to salad dressings. Tamarind paste works as an emulsifying agent and so binds dressing together real well. Our favourite is with toasted sesame oil, fresh chopped garlic, fresh chopped ginger, tamarind and apple vinegar.
- Marinades! Mix tamarind with a dash of oil, soya, mustard, and ginger for an oriental theme, or with pineapple pulp (or juice), olive oil, tabasco, garlic and fresh chopped coriander for a more tropical feel. Use such marinades with poultry, gammon or fish (especially salmon or chunky white fish) – or if you’re vegetarian aubergine and jackfruit work pretty well too.
- Make tamarind balls. Beats shop-bought confectionery. You’ll need pods or a block of tamarind for this – it won’t work with concentrate. Add a little boiling water to the fruit with a teaspoon of salt, and beat until homogenised. Add around double the quantity of sugar as you have of fruit, and mix well before rolling into little balls (around 1cm) and spreading out on a tray to set. Mix some sugar with ground cardamom (or ginger or cinnamon or all three or none of the above), and roll the balls in the mixture to coat. Store in an airtight container.
- Cocktails! Tamarind and rum are both children of the tropics, and work really well together. Mrs. S. (who is a tad partial to rum, it has to be said) makes a mean passion fruit, tamarind, curacao and rum Mai Tai.
- Tamarind and fish are great together – the natural sharpness of the former works just as well as lemon in many recipes. Add it to fish soups and in sauces for pan-fried fish. It is especially nice with potted shrimps. And it is the secret ingredient of the famous Iranian dish ‘Khoresht-e-Ghaliyeh Mahi’ (recipe in Persia in Peckham) – a lush herby fish stew from the deep South.
- Use in dips – just as you would lemon juice. At Persepolis we use it in our very popular plantain and peanut dip as the main souring agent. You can also add it to boring store bought sauces to make your own funky ketchups and salsas.
- Make your own relish. Our famous date and tamarind relish, for example.
- Use as medicine. In the Middle East tamarind is used to reduce fever, both in drinks and as a poultice. It is also a powerful laxative. In unani medicine it is regarded as ‘hot’ and ‘dry’, so it is useful for those with a sluggish metabolism. It is also good for the liver.
So there you go. Cupboard love. It’s a thing. And tamarind is really useful.