Food Love: Homemade Tamarind Paste

IMG_1375One of my favorite things about traveling is getting to know the food by visiting local markets and shops. I think that one of the best ways to get a true sense of “place” is to eat what the locals eat where the locals eat it.  While it may be daunting to walk into a packed Pintxos bar in Northern Spain, where the people are crammed shoulder to shoulder tightly grasping their small dishes brimming with tooth-picks and local delicacies caught up in deep conversation with at least ten of their closest friends or family (as if there is a difference), that’s the place you really must work your way into.

IMG_1371Here in Lafayette, though I’ve lived here now for six months, I still feel like a visitor walking around town trying to find my bearings. While I love the local farmer’s market, I was pleased to find a selection of Asian grocery stores all within 15 minutes of my house.  China town in NYC was one of the areas Keegan and I loved to visit. The fish, the vegetables, all of it seemed so different from the selections at the typical grocery store.  Much like a kid to a the candy store, I’m always drawn to the myriad spices displayed in a rainbow of colors, most of which I’ve never seen outside of a specialty shop.

IMG_1369 Tamarind was always interesting to me.  Those brown pods looked so mysterious and, yet, after trying a tamarind chutney for the first time, so tantalizing.  I have yet to find something else that imitates the tangy-sweet sourness of the tamarind, which made my decision to buy the box I found at the Asian Market in Lafayette an easy one.  But now, what to do with them?

I looked up a recipe for tamarind paste, something that I thought I could use in many dishes and would keep well in the fridge for a while.  It was actually surprisingly easy to transform these pods into the deliciously tart tamarind paste I so coveted.

Here are the steps:

1. Buy dried tamarind pods (these can be purchased in almost any Asian/Chinese food store).

2. Open the pods and remove the fruit. IMG_1370 3. Place fruit in a sauce pan with only a little bit of water (3 to 4 Tbsp. water to 1/4 cup fruit) and simmer 10 to 15 minutes to soften.

4. Remove from heat. Strain the liquid into a separate container (you will use this with your paste).

5.  Then, use the back of a spoon (I used a pestle, but you could also use a potato masher to do the job) to mash the fruit through a strainer.  Press the fruit through the strainer to get as much pulp as possible into the liquid while straining out the seeds.  IMG_1373 Your tamarind paste is now ready to use!

Note: Homemade pastes tend not to be as strong-tasting as the bottled variety, so you may need to add more to your recipe to achieve the same flavor.IMG_1374Now, anybody know some good recipes to make with tamarind paste?

Off to do more research!

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