I grew up eating tamarind chutney all the time (and living in Florida, occasionally sipping a tamarindo from the corner store). I realize that not everyone knows what tamarind looks, tastes, or feels like, and I wanted to give it a little shine. It’s a fantastic ingredient for the enthusiastic cook and keeps for like ever in your fridge.
One amazing thing about tamarind is that it’s found in so many different cuisines! It’s indigenous to Africa and eaten throughout the continent but has made its way into South Asian, East and Southeast Asian, Australian, Mexican and other Latin American cuisines. The tamarind chutney I grew up eating is similarly prepared to the tamarind pulp in Mexican food that’s used in marinades, sweets and even soups.
The pods in the picture are ripe tamarind, and, within these is the sticky, reddish brown pulp that surrounds seeds and contains large, sinewy threads. The flavor is somewhat like a date but far more sour and acidic and with less sweetness. This is not the easiest stuff to find, so I’m also showing you the wet, seedless, Thai tamarind blocks that are my preferred tamarind to cook with and that I get from the Asian stores. To extract the pulp, juice, or make a chutney, knobs of this block may be soaked in boiling water and then squeezed (with your best cooking tools, your hands!) and passed through a strainer. You want to use a spoon or something to press the pulp against the strainer to get the most you can out of it. You can then resoak the strained pulp to get a second juicing if you like.
If you cook the resulting liquid down, you’ll get the concentrate form of tamarind, which I haven’t shown and which is also in stores. To me, it doesn’t have quite the same flavor as the home-extracted version but is completely legit to cook with. Whether home-done or store-bought, this concentrate makes a fantastic base for a vinaigrette, adds tartness and depth as a marinade for grilled chicken breasts (a nice alternative to the balsamic versions out there), makes a killer version of lemonade, and generally adds a complex, sour quality to anything to which you add it.