Tamarind is such an essential ingredient in so many cuisines all over the world, particularly Indian. Whether you are a novice tamarind user, or an experienced one – read on! You may just discover new ways of using and storing Tamarind.
The name Tamarind derives from the Arabic name for it – Tamar Hind meaning ‘Indian dates’. Even if you don’t know what it is, chances are you’ve probably tasted it already – it is extensively used in Indian chutneys and curries , several Middle-Eastern food, African and Mexican fare too! It adds a wonderful tangy-sour-sweet flavour to a dish, something that raises your eyebrows and makes you go ‘wow!‘
I grew up around Tamarind trees myself, in fact I went through a mild addiction phase as a kid. There was a huge tamarind tree in my school yard and we’d pick up the ripe ones that had fallen down from the tree and just snack on it. The more agile ones would climb up the tree and shake the branches as we held up our skirts to catch the pods as they fell. It was tangy, sweet and just delicious. We’d even save up the seeds and use it to play games. I preferred the ripe ones, but a lot of my friends ate them while they were still green. They said it tasted like green mango. I even remember having a whole jar of seeds saved up. Hey! We were kids, it was shiny and smooth, don’t judge us ok! We all found weird things interesting as kids.
Most Indian meals use a fair amount of tamarind in them (particularly the Southern fare), which means getting their ‘juice’ out while cooking in the mornings can be a bit of a chore. Sure, there’s tamarind paste you get nowadays, but the preservatives in them disturb me a bit. I prefer using the tamarind block and extracting the ‘juice’ myself, thank you very much!
Here’s three ways that you can easily extract Tamarind pulp/juice without wasting too much time in the mornings!
#1: The traditional way
Tear apart a small piece of tamarind block and soak in warm water for about 10 minutes till it softens. Juice it with your fingers to remove as much ‘juice’ as possible, strain and use. Discard pulp.
#2: A little unconventional
Tear apart a handful chunk of tamarind off the block and place in a glass container with a lid. Cover with enough water to immerse it, and refrigerate. Overnight, the tamarind will soften and be ready for use the next morning. Squeeze the pulp and use what you need. Cover and store the rest in the refrigerator for upto a week.
#3: The smart way
I’ve been doing this for a while now, and I love how there’s tamarind in my fridge ALWAYS!
This method makes sure that the tamarind juice keeps longer than a week. By using your hands to juice the pulp (I can’t think of a better way, using a potato ricer maybe, but that just feels like a little too much!), you introduce bacteria from your hands affecting hot long it can keep before turning a bit rancid. Boiling kills the germs, extending the lifetime of your tamarind juice. Be sure to make a large batch of this, and you don’t have to do this every time you want some tamarind juice.
Take 160 grams (5.6 oz) of tamarind and add 2 cups of water. (Makes about 3 cups of tamarind ‘juice’. Lasts for a long, long time).
Heat in the microwave for about a minute until it softens. Let it cool completely.
Now the messy part begins: press out the juice using your hands.
Once you’ve got a slushy mix, run it through a sieve. Add more water, press, sieve and repeat. I needed 1 more cup of water to extract all the juice. You don’t want to add a lot of water, because then the final ‘juice’ becomes diluted, which means you’ll have to add a lot of it in your curries, further diluting your end product.
Seriously, you gotta squeeze the life out of this thing! Keep going at it until you end up with this.
Discard pulp and seeds and transfer the juice to a pan and let it come to a boil for a full minute or two. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes until it thickens slightly. Remove from heat and let cool completely.
Pour into a clean, sterile jar and refrigerate. Use a clean, dry spoon to take out what you need and refrigerate the rest. Should keep well for upto 3 months. You can freeze it in ice-cube trays for longer.
There are two things I hate about cooking Indian food in the mornings: Grating Coconut and Juicing Tamarind. Now, both problems solved! Now that you have a good supply of tamarind juice going, keep an eye out for my grandmother’s glorious recipe for a Brinjal Curry – seriously guys, this curry is what got me to fall in love with cooking!.
Have any more tips for me? Let me know in the comments below!