the tamarind tree, or tamarindus indica, is a tropical evergreen and said to have originated in africa, most likely from the sudan, and later made its way to india [and other parts of the world]. i was surprised to learn that it actually belongs to the same family as pulses (leguminosae).
this tree's name, derived from the arabic and persian language — tamar hindi, is also almost exactly the same in hebrew. directly translated, it means date of india. it is a very large tree with expansive branches. the leaves are small and composed of many little leaflets. at night they close up. in india, there is some lore surrounding this massive tree. according to author, anita rau badami in her book tamarind woman,
“[f]olklore has it that the tamarind tree is the home of spirits that do not let anything under the tree survive. Accordingly, travelers are advised not to sleep in its shade.
The tamarind tree is never used for auspicious ceremonies, as its fruit is sour. It is believed that the ceremony will turn sour and thus become fruitless and lose all meaning.”
the dried pods of the tamarind tree are distantly related to, and reminiscent of, carob [known in judaism as bokser or haruv (חרוב)]. its taste, however, is quite different from that of tamarind. notice the look and shape of both fruit from these trees and you will see what i mean when i say they look quite similar.
the tamarind is also popular in both the middle east and parts of central america, including mexico, and south america. in the middle east, it is sometimes used to flavour meat dishes to add a sour element and, as in latin american countries, a refreshing sweet and sour drink is made from it, as well. i love this drink which is simply made from tamarind pulp, sugar & water and some ice. it could be considered an acquired taste, however. it is called (re)fresco de tamarindo or agua de tamarindo. there is even a soft drink called jarritos. in some countries small, spicy tamarind candies are also much loved. how ever it is consumed, it is considered healthy.
in sephardic jewish cuisine, tamarind is used in much the same ways as is done in middle eastern countries. it flavours meats, is used for sauces and tamarind drinks.
did you know that tamarind is one of the ingredients of the common worcestershire sauce?
anyway, back to my original intent of this post, the recipe —
this version of the sauce uses tamarind concentrate which is easily bought in an indian or middle eastern store instead of the dried tamarind. it is a fair trade-off, in my opinion, when you don't feel like toiling with soaking, mashing, draining & straining the dried fruit or just don't have the time.
black salt, or sanchal (kala namak), is another item normally used in this sauce and one that needs to be picked up from an indian store. "black" is a bit of a misnomer as the powdered form is usually a pinkish colour when you buy it. read more here about this volcanic salt mineral and to see what it looks like in its two forms. it is uniquely indian and has a pungent, sulphurous edge to it. it really is actually much like the smell of hardboiled eggs but do not be off-put — you can make this chutney without it. it is somewhat of an acquired taste for those unaccustomed to it and if you are not adventurous or just not turned on by the idea of it, then simply omit it. it will not ruin the result of the chutney by any means. black salt is used in many snack type foods and for the often used chaat masala mixture sprinkled on a type of snacks called chaat, of which samosas is one of them. you can explore the subject further here if it interests you.
this recipe does not include the typical raisins or dates. it is more a quick restaurant-type version, i would say. in any case, i hope you enjoy it! the "real" one, called so(o)nth, can also be prepared with souring agents other than tamarind like dried green mango. soonth is the hindi word for the star ingredient which is dried ginger. an authentic version using dried tamarind will appear one of these days.
update: more tamarind chutney recipes here.
quick tamarind chutney
1 1/4 c cold water
scant 1/2 c sugar (white or brown)
1 1/4 tbsp tamarind concentrate
1 1/2 tsp powdered ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp black salt [kala namak]
1/8 - 1/4 tsp red chili powder
1/4 - 1/2 tsp garam masala
chopped peanuts, optional
put everything but the garam masala in a medium sized pot or as i do, in a fry pan. the larger surface area helps it to reduce much faster to the correct consistency.
bring the mixture to a boil and with a heat resistant spatula or wooden spoon, stir. make sure that the tamarind concentrate dissolves; it will be thick at first until it dissolves.
turn the heat to medium high, and keep stirring until the sauce/chutney is reduced to a almost syrupy texture. remember it will thicken somewhat upon cooling. if you find it is too thick add more water later by the tablespoon to obtain the correct texture. it should be like maple syrup or a bit thinner.
add the garam masala at the end. you may add roasted chopped peanuts to thicken it a bit and to add another texture and flavour. after it has cooled. if you are doing that, the mixture should be a bit thinner as the peanuts will thicken the sauce.
makes ~ 3/4 c to 1 c chutney
store in the refrigerator or freeze.