the fruit of the tamarind tree grows in pods which look like large over-sized and somewhat flattened peas in a pod. the skin of the pod is a very dark brown and within each pod is the fruit itself, brown and sticky. see my post here for more information about it.
the sticky fruit inside the pod is either compressed into blocks, with or without seeds, or made into a very thick syrup which is sold as the concentrated form. generally, it's best to buy the blocks without the seeds as it makes it easier to process in your kitchen. the concentrated form, while not usually my first choice, is much simpler to use. one just adds it to whatever one is cooking. most people prefer the taste of the block form of tamarind though.
often, making the paste is considered very labour intensive which is why some people like the concentrate. i usually make a lot and freeze it in containers until i need it. it will last for months frozen. so, to make the paste, the only the you need to do is soak the block and strain it carefully. not so hard to do ;) you just have to remember not to make it in a metal bowl — it chemically reacts with it while it soaks, therefore use either glass or plastic.
making this in larger batches and freezing it for later use in small containers is a time saver. of course, if you don't use it regularly, you're better off just making the called for amount following the instructions below at the time of making your recipe.
dried tamarind block
for a small batch:
i use a ratio of 1/2 lb (250 g) tamarind to 2.5 c water
and a large batch:
1 lb (500 g) tamarind to 5 c hot water
take your piece of tamarind and place it in your container.
add your hot water and cover the bowl or container and let it sit for at least 2 hours. you can leave it overnight, too.
once it has soaked, take your hand and squish it to break it up or use a wooden spoon.
press the tamarind through a fine sieve over and over again extracting as much liquid as you can.
make sure to keep pressing as much as possible. check the bottom of the sieve and scrape off and add the concentrated paste to the bowl your extracting into.
once it has been extracted, mix it all together and either use in your recipe or freeze for later.
easy as could be!