The unassuming little pod packs quite a punch.
What Is It?
Tamarind is a sweet-tart member of the legume family. It's originally from North Africa, although many assume it hails from India or Southeast Asia, given its prevalence in both cultures’ cuisines. Tamarind pods are slightly pudgy and smooth to the touch, with a bumpy shape reminiscent of a certain illustrated very hungry caterpillar. Tamarind grows green and sour, but when left to ripen, the pods brown and the flavor mellows. Crack the thin shell open, and you’ll find a soft, sticky pulp similar to a Medjool date.
What Do I Do With It?
If you’ve never snacked on a dried tamarind pod, you should: There’s a row of seeds you’ll have to weed out like cherry pits, but that’s part of the fun. The slight acidity makes it perfect in both sweet and savory vehicles: It’s a main ingredient in both Worcestershire sauce and HP Sauce, and you’ll find it kicking around in pad Thai and curry dishes. Use tamarind’s sour side to your advantage in meat and vegetable glazes; brush some on in the final minutes of cooking for a whole new level of flavor. Thinned out, it’s a welcome addition to vinaigrettes, cocktails and sodas.
You can buy tamarind in many forms: pods, paste or concentrate. Steer clear of the concentrate, unless your recipe calls for it, as it’s syrupy and intense. Work with either the paste or the pods; both should be heated with water to thin into a medium paste.