Photo Credit: A. Baranowski/Getty Images
I recently tossed a block of plastic-wrapped tamarind paste into my grocery basket on a whim. I was at a Mexican market, but the store offered unusual food items from around the globe.
Native to Africa but found throughout Southeast Asia , drought-resistant tamarind trees produce pods that encase small beans, and these beans nestle in a sticky pulp. During harvesting, the pods are discarded, and the pulp is pressed into cakes or blocks, like the kind I found at my market.
In Thailand, the pulp may be sprinkled with sugar and eaten as a sweet treat, or diluted and squeezed, creating a juice. It’s also used in making Pad Thai. In Latin America , tamarind juice is incorporated into chilly and refreshing agua frescas and batidos. And in Indian cookery, it’s a widely used souring agent, especially popular in tamarind chutney. In fact, tamarind has even been nicknamed the “Indian date.”
To incorporate tamarind paste into recipes, dissolve a small nubbin in hot water, as it’s highly concentrated.
Another interesting factoid? Tamarind is a key ingredient in Worcestershire sauce.
Look for tamarind pods, pastes, and chutneys in Southeast Asian, Mexican, and Middle Eastern markets.