Tamarind (Recipe: pineapple shrimp curry)
What fruit can ward off night demons (stick the pod in your ear, as the British did in Victorian India), polish copper and silver, cure a sore throat, enhance a woman's sexuality, and make amazing curries and vindaloos, chutneys, soups, sorbet and drinks?
And had an Omar Sharif/Julie Christie romantic thriller named after it?
You're right — it's tamarind.
The first time I brought home a block of tamarind, I had no idea what to do with it. It was heavy and squishy, the consistency of moist modeling clay, and the only word in English on the label was ... tamarind. No clues there, but it turns out that tamarind is easy to use, and the sweet-sour taste and aroma add authenticity to Thai and Indian dishes.
Tamarind thrives in semi-arid, monsoonal, tropical climates of India, Africa and the West Indies, so it's no surprise that the fruit features in the cuisines of those regions. High in pectin, tamarind also is used in cosmetics and paints.
In Indian markets I buy tamarind concentrate (the round container in the photo above), which has a jam-like consistency, but most often I find the rectangular bricks. Occasionally I see the fruit pods, too, but I've never tried to cook with them (use the sticky pulp inside the pod). Stored at room temperature, tamarind pulp will keep forever.
To use the tamarind brick, break off a small piece (usually a tablespoon or so), and soak it in hot water to cover for 30 minutes. Break up the pulp with your hands or a wooden spoon to allow all of the flavor to leach out, then rub the tamarind and the liquid through a sieve. Discard any tough fibers and seeds that remain in the sieve. Store the strained pulp, often called tamarind water or tamarind juice*, for one month in the refrigerator, or freeze it. (Note: tamarind concentrate does not need to be soaked before use.)
If you are superstitious and own an elephant — a good luck totem, but a darned big pet — feed it some tamarind bark and fruit, which are said to be one source of elephants' wisdom.
I don't know about that, but I do feel like a wise cook when I've got tamarind in my pantry.
Pineapple shrimp curry
It was an inevitable, and happy, consequence of moving my cookbook collection into the wonderful new bookcase Ted built for me, that I would find a few treasures I'd long forgotten. Sandeep Chatterjee's The Spice Trail: One Hundred Hot Dishes from India to Indonesia, is one of those treasures, and it's the source of this sweet-and-sour recipe from central Thailand. I've adapted a tiny bit. Serves 6.
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
3 Tbsp red curry paste (storebought, or homemade)
2 Tbsp tamarind water*
1 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp fish sauce
2 cups coconut milk
4-5 kaffir lime leaves, torn, or 1 Tbsp lime zest
Salt, to taste
1 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 small pineapple (approx. 4 oz), peeled and finely chopped
1 red chile pepper, split (optional)
Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the curry paste and sauté 3-4 minutes.
Add the tamarind water, brown sugar, fish sauce, coconut milk and lime leaves. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Check the seasoning, and add salt as necessary. Add the shrimp and simmer for 3-5 minutes, until cooked.
Turn out onto a platter, garnish with the pineapple pieces and red chile pepper (if using). Serve over boiled rice.
Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.
Great tip, I've been wondering what else I could feed my elephant, he's getting tired of peanuts. But seriously, I've never, ever cooked with tamarind but have always been intrigued by it. Thanks for the lesson! I love your blog, I always learn something new!
I recently saw a recipe for Tamarind Ice Cream which looks intruiging!
I´ve tagged you for a meme, I hope you don´t mind.
Lisa, thank you for the kind words. I'm learning a lot, too, as I work my way through the pantry. Tamarind, especially in the "brick" form, is like Play-Dough that tastes really good!
Freya, that does sound interesting. Are you going to try it?
Ximena, of course I don't mind! This meme has been my way already, so you can read five fun things about me here:
I love the flavor of tamarind and whenever I'm thinking of substitutions I come up with lime/pomegranate molasses... I just gotta get a hold of a brick and try out that recipe.
Hey Lydia, I find exactly the same brand here (the brick thing), too! Extracting the pulp is a real pain, but I used some for 2 of the recipes in my last post.
Meant to ask you ages ago, but if you've aleady given the answer somewhere else, please show me the way. Just wanted to know if you really keep count of the stuff in your pantry! :)
Callipygia, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. Lime and pom molasses are a great substitute. I'm guessing that if you live in a place where you can find the pomegranate molasses, you can probably find tamarind, too! And you're not too too far from Boston, are you?
Shilpa, I really do keep count (but I cheat and do it on a database). That's why the number goes up and down. I was shocked the first time I counted everything -- but now all I can think of are the things I'm missing....
I have always like the sound of the word, tamarind. It had and still has a mystique to it.
I have yet to see it here. But, since I've become a regular in your pantry, Lydia, I am paying more attention to ingredients when I am at the supermarket. I'm learning a lot.
Lydia !! This is the brand I used, both the concentrate and the unseeded tamarind pulps !! Tamarinds are perfect find, a must have for all tom yum soups, great addition to most sweet and sour spicy dishes and more ! Great find :)
What a great post Lydia! Tamarind is one of those chic ingredients that keeps popping up in recipes, but there isn't a whole lot of information about it. I've just begun using the brick type. Rest assured, I will be making your recipe; sweet, spicy, and sour sounds like perfection to me.
Great sounding recipe Lydia - I've been wondering what to do with the tamarind paste in my pantry for a while and this looks fun and tasty. Thank god for your blog - otherwise who knows how long some of these food treats would languish on the shelf.
Mimi, now that you've gotten an olive bar in your neck of the woods, can a tamarind shop be far behind????
MeltingWok, I absolutely love tom yum soup. It is my comfort soup of choice. I make it spicy enough to make my nose run and my head sweat!
Susan, tamarind looks intimidating, but once you start to cook with it you'll recognize the taste from foods you've had at Thai and Indian restaurants.
Jessica, I'm finding the most amazing things in my own pantry... I'm surprised at how much stuff goes in, but never comes out....!
I've never had tamarind, Lydia, and yet it is very common in the North and Northeast regions of Brazil.
What a strong color it has!
I enjoyed reading your post! I often have trouble getting tamarind at my regular grocery store, so I try to stock up on it at specialty stores when I can. Your recipe looks fabulous! I love all the ingredients in it. And I even have them right now! :):)
When I was a kind tamarindo (tamarind candy) was one of my favorite things to eat. I ate them all myself too, no sharing with the elephants.
I love tamarind. I even bought the pods once in Miami, carried them home and boiled them to get the pulp, but in the end I decided it's easier to buy it!!
Patricia, I love the color. What are some popular Brazilian dishes with tamarind?
Sher, the local grocery store in our village doesn't carry anythng more exotic than Nutella! I stock up at the Asian supermarkets in Boston whenever I'm there.
Ari, I've seen tamarind candy in many of the Chinatown markets in Boston. No elephants, though....
Kalyn, I've never even attempted the tamarind pods!
just finished a wonderful meal of the pinapple shrimp curry - delightful. I chickened out with the 3 tbls of red curry paste and halfed that amount. (Probably the right decision when feeding a hot-food-light-weight and a toddler.) The tamarind and pinapple make a really nice tart/sweet balance to the red curry. This one goes into the rotation!
Jessica, so glad you enjoyed this recipe. Your toddler has an adventurous palate!
i adore tamarind and don't have ANY in my pantry. this will change now that i've seen your post. the recipe is quite enticing as well. thanks so much for sharing it!
Lydia I enjoy reading your posts but always forget your web address. Thanks for stopping by my blog so that I found yours again--I'll just go ahead and add you to my links.
I love tamarind but never cooked with it. Red curry and shrimp sound delicious, yet I have to get used to the idea of having pineapple with curry.
Linda, the nice thing about tamarind is that once you do get some in your pantry, it will keep for a long time.
Burcu, thanks for stopping by. I love reading your blog and learning about Turkish food. The olive cake recipe is going on my list right away!
Now here is an ingredient that I use 3-4 times every week! My challenge is to learn to use it in Thai cooking. When I was a kid, my favorite thing was to steal a little gob of tamarind from the kitchen, sprinkle it with salt and suck on it, it is sooo good :)
I love tamarind and using it for Asian-style dishes. It has such a complex flavour profile. Thanks for the link to the tamarind sorbet. Something I will be trying pretty soon with my ice-cream machine.
Nupur, when I was young I always liked sour candies. If we'd had tamarind in the kitchen, I would probably have done what you did!
Steven, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. I haven't tried the sorbet but I love tart fruit flavors, so I'm betting it will be lovely.
I love dishes with tamarind in them! thanks for this recipe! My favorite is this Filipino dish called "Sinigang" which could be made with seafood specially shrimp or meat like pork.
The tamarind candies are also addictive because it's a perfect combination of sour and sweet.
Actually, it's used most in sweet recipes - tamarind juice and ice-cream are very popular in the North East. Some people make cakes, too.
I just recently got an urge to learn how to make pad thai at home and went searching for tamarind, palm sugar and dried shrimp. I found the exact tamarind concentrate that appears in your picture, and it worked very well!
My question is-- How long does your concentrate keep? I've got it stored in the fridge and it seems fine after a couple of weeks, but I'm not sure how much long I can use it.
Thanks for a great blog!
Liz, the concentrate keeps for months in the fridge. How was your pad thai? I'm always looking for great pad thai recipes, so please share if you like the one you used.
I used this recipe from Cook's Illustrated, and it was great! Since I used the concentrate instead of the pulp, I skipped the first step and added a couple of tablespoons of the concentrate to the sauce mixture. I didn't have the radish or shallots, and I'm sure it would be even better with those included. Also, this recipe doesn't call for any tofu, unlike most of the recipes I've seen. I don't know if it's considered to be an essential component of Pad Thai, but you could definitely tweak the recipe to add some.
2 tablespoons tamarind pulp
¾ cup boiling water
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
8 ounces dried rice stick noodles
2 large eggs
¼ teaspoon salt
12 ounces medium (31/35 count) shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
1 medium shallot, minced (about 3 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons dried shrimp, chopped fine
2 tablespoons chopped Thai salted preserved radish
6 tablespoons chopped roasted unsalted peanuts
3 cups (6 ounces) bean sprouts
5 medium scallions, sliced thin on a sharp diagonal
¼ cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
1. Rehydrate the tamarind paste in boiling water. Press through a sieve, discard seeds and rind. Stir the fish sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, cayenne, and 2 tablespoons oil into the tamarind liquid and set aside.
2. Cover the rice sticks with hot tap water in a large bowl; soak until softened, pliable, and limp but not fully tender, about 20 minutes. Drain the noodles and set aside. Beat the eggs and 1/8 teaspoon of the salt in a small bowl; set aside.
3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch skillet (preferably nonstick) over high heat until just beginning to smoke. Add the shrimp and sprinkle with the remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt; cook, tossing occasionally, until the shrimp are opaque and browned about the edges, about 3 minutes. Transfer the shrimp to a plate and set aside.
4. Off heat, add the remaining tablespoon oil to the skillet and swirl to coat; add the garlic and shallot, set the skillet over medium heat, and cook, stirring constantly, until light golden brown, about 1½ minutes; add the eggs to the skillet and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until scrambled and barely moist, about 20 seconds. Add the noodles and the dried shrimp and salted radish (if using) to the eggs; toss with 2 wooden spoons to combine. Pour the fish sauce mixture over the noodles, increase the heat to high, and cook, tossing constantly, until the noodles are evenly coated. Scatter ¼ cup peanuts, bean sprouts, all but ¼ cup scallions, and cooked shrimp over the noodles; continue to cook, tossing constantly, until the noodles are tender, about 2½ minutes (if not yet tender add 2 tablespoons water to the skillet and continue to cook until tender).
5. Transfer the noodles to a serving platter, sprinkle with the remaining scallions, 2 tablespoons peanuts, and cilantro; serve immediately, passing lime wedges separately.
Liz, thank you so much for sharing this recipe!
I have just bought tamarind from my asian market, googled it, got this page, and realized it is the same that is in the picture.... although the price reads: asian market $2.20, yes it is 2010, that is a 41% increase in the price. inflation, and the dismissal of the dollar