I wish I had a story about tamarind to brighten this post up, but all I’ve got is some latent confusion over why my mom had two dried out and empty tamarind pods in her refrigerator last time I visited.
I call for tamarind water in a lot of my recipes, which is no surprise given that I spend so much time writing about Southeast Asian cuisine. Tamarind is a souring agent commonly used in the region, but also in worcestershire sauce back home. Also, when mixed with sugar syrup, lime juice, and fizzy water, it makes an ace summer drink that would probably be even better with gin (someone please report back).
Every once in awhile a reader contacts me to ask if x brand of tamarind something or other is suitable in a given recipe. I have opinions about everything, tamarind included, and I’m going to share them here (just the opinions about tamarind, but let me know if you want to hear about my cats are probably better than yours).
Tamarind pulp comes packaged in a block, either with or without seeds. The latter is easier to work with and tends to be of higher quality.
Tamarind water can be bought ready made, but the results in cooking are disappointing. A lot of the sourness gets lost, not to mention it’s too salty (in a bad way). For those reasons I recommend against these products. Leave sticky notes on them in the store to warn people away.
To make tamarind water yourself, simply mash and squeeze tamarind pulp and warm water together, straining the mixture through mesh, using the back of a wooden or silicone spoon to push the thicker liquid through.
Since it can be diluted later if necessary, tamarind water is best made thick. The ratio to aim for is between 1:1 and 2:1 warm water to tamarind pulp. Avoid making it thinner as too much water can dilute the dishes calling for the tamarind water.
You can make a reasonable quantity in advance, but after a couple of weeks you’ll probably find things growing in the fridge. It’s messy but easy to make in small quantities, so I tend to make tamarind water only when I need it. I enjoy creating as much washing up as possible.