First things first - I’m breaking the rules. My own, self-inflicted rules specifically. This month’s magic ingredient is… a fruit. I’m not talking apples or pears here, I’m talking tamarind. I’m justifying it to myself and you, dear reader, because although tamarind might be an unfamiliar flavour to those in the UK, you’ll know it’s tang from brown sauce and Worcestershire sauce. From curries and street snacks in India, soups (including all-round favourite tom yum) and sweets in Thailand and cooling drinks in the Caribbean and South America, (nearly) the rest of the world can’t get enough of it.
Tamarind is used as you would a spice in a recipe - a flavour, an enhancer of the main event, rather than the focus of a meal - hence my inclusion into this series. (Also I dreamed up this dish and just had to share it with you so you can take along to every barbeque from this moment onwards till October. Sorrynotsorry).
Tamarind is a fruit consisting of a dry pod-like shell, with large seeds and a sticky pulp inside. The pulp is what you eat and can be bought either as a ready-made concentrate or as a block of compressed pulp and seeds. As ever I’d recommend getting the block as the flavour is much fresher and purer, but the concentrate is a convenient substitute. You can find it in any Asian supermarket or ‘world food’ aisle, and I’ll explain how to prepare it from scratch in the recipe.
Tamarind has a predominantly sour flavour, with sweet, fruity notes. It can be too tart when not balanced with other flavours but this is a personal preference so always taste as you go when adding salt, sweet and spice to get the right flavour for you.
Once you’re on the tamarind wagon, it’s hard to come off it. I’m addicted to the stuff and am known to drink a whole jar of my mum’s imbli paani (literally ‘tamarind water’) straight from the jar. Its widely used across India in various different recipes - from toor di dhal in the north (a dhal made from toor lentils in Punjab) to sambhar and rasam in the south. Every desi household will have some in the fridge, ready to serve to any impromptu visitors with samosas and other snacks. I remember going to a local ‘curry house’ as a teen with an English friend’s family and being confused by what seemed like a mango jam that was served to me with my pakora. Where’s the sour tang from imbli to cut through my greasy appetiser? And more importantly, why is there a breakfast preserve on the table at dinner??
Health-wise, tamarind has traditionally been used in Indian Ayurvedic practice for centuries to aid digestion and constipation, and also as an anti-inflammatory. It’s relatively high in minerals like magnesium and iron which is unusual for a fruit. These are both great for when you’re feeling sluggish and lethargic as they help your body convert food into energy and gets oxygen flowing through your veins respectively.
Now the sun’s shining (well nearly…) this a lovely bright summery dish. I’ve used flavours that both compliment and contrast each other - sweet, juicy pineapple, tart and fruity tamarind, earthy cumin, peppery fresh watercress and hot chilli. The actual recipe for the dressing is the traditional imbli paani I’ve referred to that is used in lots of different Indian street snacks.
I served it alongside a big BBQ feast, but you could have it as a side alongside some grilled halloumi or smoked tofu and quinoa with loads of fresh herbs and extra virgin olive oil stirred through. There’s something about grilling fruit on the barbie that gives you mega chef creds btw. You’ve earned that novelty apron.
Grilled Pineapple & Tamarind Salad
Fresh pineapple, peeled and sliced (leave the core)
Watercress, one bag
Fresh red chilli, finely sliced
Tamarind, ¾ block (or jar of concentrated paste if you can’t find it)
Cumin seeds, half tsp
Dried mint, half tsp
If using a block of tamarind, loosen slightly with you hands and place in a deep bowl. Cover with enough boiling water to just cover it, and place a lid on top. Leave for half an hour.
Once fully soaked, pour the tamarind and the brown liquid through a sieve. Use the back of a spoon to push as much of the paste through the sieve, leaving the seeds and husk.
In a dry pan, gently toast the cumin seeds. Keep an eye on them - once they’re brown and have released their nutty, spicy scent empty into a pestle and mortar and crush to a powder.
Pour the tamarind water into the empty pan on a low heat. You want to reduce slightly to thicken it up. If you’re using concentrate mix a tablespoon of the paste in a pan, add roughly two mugs of boiling water and reduce to thicken.
Add the ground cumin, dried mint, sugar and salt bit by bit. Taste as you go - you want the sugar to balance the tartness of the tamarind but not overpower it, and the salt to season and add a savoury edge. The mint finishes it off with a fresh note. Take off the heat once it’s thickened slightly and allow to cool.
Place the pineapple slices on a hot barbeque or griddle pan. No need for any oil, just cook till caramelised and you have those lovely grill marks on both sides.
Place your washed watercress in a dish and lay the grilled pineapple over the top.
Sprinkle with the sliced chilli, and drizzle the dressing over the whole salad.
Use the dressing for its original purpose, and dip in Indian savoury snacks like samosas, pakoras and bhajis.
Make your own brown sauce!
Toor di dhal is my all-time favourite dhal. Search for a Punjabi recipe online to see what I’m talking about.
Get creative - tamarind’s sourness is a delicious accompaniment to sweet and salty dishes.
Ruby (@rubydhalay) is a foodie who is passionate about finding pleasure and nourishment in food, exploring an holistic approach to cooking and eating.
Every month she'll be taking culinary inspiration from her roots and focussing on a different spice - talking about flavour, provenance, health and wellbeing, and most importantly how to get the most out of them in your cooking