Tuesday, May 8, 2007


Tamarind has the ability to be all things to many people...used as a sweet and savory in various recipes applications; a fruit or a spice -- you decide. This tree borne pod is indigenous to Africa but more identified with the sub-continent can be found being employed enthusiastically throughout the entire tropical belt of the world.

It offers a unique sour profile with a raisin-like quality to a dish without the strident mouth feel of many puckery notes. For me one of the foods it seems to love is the tomato – it gives the tomato a depth and richness that makes any Tomato Soup more than ordinary. Though simply added to water with some sugar and orange juice and you got a quenching iced beverage.

There is some labor in involved with using tamarind in its paste form. It must be dissolved in some water to loosen the seeds from the pulp and then strained to capture the pulp. The seeds while edible will take hours to soften…they are rock hard. I will confess, there is a more convenient version on the market of tamarind concentrate that is already freed from its teeth breaking seeds though I find it not nearly as intense as the paste form. Store the paste in the refrigerator to keep it moist and pliable. I use the dried powdered tamarind to dust fish, poultry and as one of the spices in my chili sauce.

No, need to pucker up…

Shrimp and Tomato – yields 4 servings
1 medium onion – peeled and thinly sliced
2-inch piece of ginger – peeled and sliced thin julienne
1-tablespoon canola oil
1/4 cup tamarind paste – dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water
3 garlic cloves – peeled
1 to 2 dried Asian chilies
2 cans whole tomatoes
2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
1/2-pound shrimp – peeled and de-veined
1/4-pound baby spinach
Salt to taste

In a 2-1/2 quart saucepan add the onions, ginger and oil, and over a medium flame cook until the onion brown lightly.

Push the softened tamarind through a fine sieve to dislodge the seeds from the pulp. Discard the seeds and place the pulp in the blender along with the tomato, garlic, chili and fish sauce. Process until smooth.

Once the onions have browned pour over the tomato mixture, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Mix in the shrimp and spinach and cook for about 6 to 8 minutes longer. Correct the seasoning, and serve hot over noodles.

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