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Tamarind (Recipe: Mozambique chicken) {gluten-free}

Tamarind chicken

Guest post and photos by Peter in Brazil, chef and co-owner of Pousada do Capão

We lunched at Al Arabe Lebanese Restaurant last week during our routine weekly shopping junket to Diamantina. A cold, tall glass of tart tamarind juice, over ice and lightly sweetened with brown sugar, was just what I needed to take the edge off the noonday heat. And it was the perfect accompaniment to a plate of Ahmed’s meat kibbeh and delicious fatoosh salad.

As we returned to the center of town to finish up a few errands before heading home to São Gonçalo, I couldn’t resist buying some tamarind pods from a street vendor, whose wheelbarrow was brimming with not only tamarind, but also mangoes, okra, araticum, pequi, and other delicacies of the cerrado.

Usually I write about my pantry items that are native to Brazil and were globalized with the help of the Portuguese and Spanish explorers. Tamarind, on the other hand, is native to Africa and subsequently was naturalized all over the tropical world by colonizers and traders.

Its uses run the gamut from dyestuff to laxative to cattle fodder to furniture-making, but today I'll stick to its culinary appeal.


The large leguminous tamarind tree produces a velvety, cocoa-colored pod full of  bean-like seeds and an orangey-brown, sticky, sour-sweet pulp. It was known in ancient Egypt and Greece and caught on so well in India that many believe it to have originated there. The name tamarind (tamar hindi), in fact, means "Indian date". 

Essential to African, Indian, Mexican, and Caribbean cooking, tamarind gives tang and depth to that old favorite, Worcestershire sauce. Here in Brazil it shows up most often as a drink, as popsicles or sherbet, and as jammy sweets.

Photo by Lydia

I have always loved the sweet and sour lemon-apricot-date flavor of tamarind, but had never seen it for sale in Diamantina before. All the bumpy 34 kilometers back to the inn, I was thinking about tamarind ice cream, tamarind whiskey sours, tamarind with fish, chocolates with tamarind filling, tamarind apple pie, tamarind in place of anything with dried apricots or apricot jam, and tamarind with chicken.

Mozambique chicken

This recipe is a great synthesis of things African and Portuguese, and it is easy to prepare. The simple ingredients complement each other and produce a rich, delicious, surprisingly complex sauce. Serves 6-8.


I made my tamarind puree from scratch by shelling one pound of pods and soaking in water to cover over night, then straining to remove seeds and any additional bits of shell. This yielded approximately 2-1/2 cups of puree, and I used 1-3/4 cups in this recipe. For the convenience-minded, I have substituted reconstituted tamarind paste in the recipe, but by all means start from scratch if you are game!

4 oz tamarind paste
1-1/2 cups boiling water
6 oz dry white wine
Hot pepper sauce, to taste
2 tsp kosher salt
Small bunch of parsley
4 scallions
4 lbs chicken thighs, bone-in (or legs and thighs)
2 yellow onions, grated
2 Tbsp butter (or margarine)
4 cloves garlic, minced


Dissolve the tamarind paste in boiling water to make a smooth puree, adding water as needed to reach the consistency of  tomato sauce. Chop the parsley leaves, reserving stems, and set aside. Separate the scallion greens from the white parts. Leave the greens whole and chop the white parts. Set aside.

Mix the tamarind puree, white wine, hot pepper sauce to taste (go easy -– you can always add more later) and salt to make the marinade. Tie the parsley stems and scallions greens in a bunch (to make a bouquet garni) and add to the marinade. Pour the marinade over the chicken pieces, mix well, and let marinate for at least 2 hours or overnight, in the refrigerator. I recommend marinating overnight, if time allows.

Preheat oven to 325°F.

In a large frying pan, brown the grated onions and chopped white parts of the scallions in the butter (or margarine). Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Remove the bouquet garni from the chicken, add the chicken pieces to the onion/garlic/scallion mixture and mix well.

Arrange the chicken pieces in a single layer in a baking pan, and spoon the marinade over the chicken. Bake in a 325F oven, turning the chicken and basting from time to time to allow even browning, until the meat is tender and the sauce is nice and thick, approximately 50-60 minutes. If the sauce seems to be thickening too quickly, add a bit of chicken stock or water during the cooking, as needed.

Garnish with chopped parsley. Serve with fresh creamed corn and additional hot pepper sauce on the side.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Pineapple shrimp curry
Spicy peanut sauce
Tahu goreng (tofu with peanut sauce)
Thai chicken curry
African-inspired squash and peanut soup

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.


Yes, this is one on my watch for and must try list.
This chicken looks awesome rich beautiful.

This is so interesting, and my mouth is watering, too! I've never seen a photo of a tamarind pod, in fact, I knew very little about it, except that it was often a mysterious ingredient sometimes mentioned on a menu.

I noticed tamarind paste in my Mediterranean grocery last week and wondered what to do with it. This sounds great, along with the drink with brown sugar. I'll have to get some paste the next time I go shopping. Thanks!

Oh fabulous! I have a packet of tamarind paste in my pantry that I bought because it looked interesting but never knew what to make with it. This looks wonderful and flavorful and I'll try it! Thanks!

Until today I had no idea that a tamarind tree even exists :) and you can use it in so many ways. Very interesting article Lynda, you live, you learn!

MyKitchenInHalfCups - Thanks! I just bought 2 quarts of fresh tamarind concentrate at a roadside stand on the way home from a week at the beach. I think this chicken will be on the Easter Weekend menu.

T.W.Barritt - I remember seeing pods for sale in an Indian market back in Waltham Massachusetts. I'm sure you'll find tons in NYC.

Janel - You're welcome! I'm going to experiment serving the juice for breakfast (along with a second more conventional offering) and see how it is received.

Jamie - It is good and very simple to make. I do recommend marinating overnight and I do like the zing of a nice dose of hot pepper. The sauce is a nice balance of hot, sweet, sour, and salt.

Monica - Glad you liked the piece - this whole information exchange thing is very rewarding.

What a gorgeous chicken dish. We do use tamarind back in the Philippines for a dish called sinigang.

This sounds really fabulous. I'm a big fan of tamarind, which I learned to like from a Vietnamese dish called Sour Tamarind Shrimp broth. I have tamarind paste in the fridge too, but I haven't used it much. Thanks for the idea and inspiration.

You had me at "Mozambique". I've never cooked with tamarind, but I know where to get them. This looks spectacular!

I love to process stuff Tamarind is one of those things that I'll just leave to others and buy the paste. I do use it a lot as a subsitute for molassas or when I want something to be sweetish but not sweet or when I want the smoky taste of molassas but not the really sweet part.
Thanks for the recipe. I'll thaw out some chicken thighs.
I'm thinking Berberis,saffron rice to go with.


This dish looks divine! Question though since tamarind is new to me 1 - what aisle of an asian mkt would that be found in??
2- What is the difference between paste and concentrate?
Thanks - I can't wait to try something different!

I have tamarind at home...this is like the best idea ever!

Now I am bummed that I had to toss tamarind paste out of my fridge because of a 5 day power failure. However, this gives me an excuse to go buy more.

veron - I will do a web search for sinigang. Who knows? Could be time for a Filipino night in São Gonçalo.

Kalyn - or Vietnamese night? Your shrimp broth sounds delicious, but shrimp aren't easy to come by in these parts. You are welcome.

Toni - Thanks. Mozambique has been on my wish list since I collected stamps as a kid. They had gorgeous stamps in the 50s. Anyway, this is a great recipe for your first tamarind experience.

Kim - Funny - I just came back from a week at the beach in Pernambuco with tamarind and molasses. They call molasses "sugar plantation honey" and serve it drizzled over buttered and grilled local white cheese for dessert. Delicious!!!!

sam - You didn't give me much to go on...I hope your "ok" is one of approval.

Foogeeklee - Thanks. That is a tough one, since there aren't any Asian markets here nearby. Lydia, can you help?

Darius T. Williams - Great! I love your enthusiasm and I hope you like the finished dish.

Jeff - I bet it was salvageable, but better safe than sorry. Five days without power is tough. Hope you cooked up a storm and invited in all the neighbors.

Foodgeeklee, I usually find tamarind in the aisle with canned fruits (lychees, rambutan, etc.).

Help, please! I'm trying this on my Gourmet Group next week, and need some good wine pairing recommendations. It sounds & looks delicious!

I love tamarind juice. I tried making it once with rosewater and tamarind pods but it definitely did not turn out well. I didn't know tamarind pods were native to Africa, I thought they were Asian since they're used in so many Asian foods. Nice recipe.

Angie - Way cool. The sauce is slightly tart so I would suggest something with body and not too dry - perhaps a nice Chardonnay, a Sancerre, a Verdicchio, or even an Alvarinho. Or you could go with a Vinho Verde - I like the light spritz. Good luck with your dinner!!

Hillary - Rosewater would be right in line with the Middle-eastern palate. What went wrong? Amazing how ingredients were spread all over the world even in a time when only caravans and ships were available. Thanks

Fantastic recipe Lydia!! Thank you so much! This is the first recipe I have tried in your site and it is amazing! I accidentally added double the wine and the sauce didn't thicken as expected but the flavours is simply delicious, it's definitely a keeper! Thanks again :-)

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