For my February 8 article about the tamarind fruit, it’s uses, & it’s health benefits (plus my recipe for better-than-delivery pad thai) either click here or keep on reading!
If you’re anything like me when it comes to cooking, you can find inspiration on nearly any level. You might be moved to create an entire, full-meal theme (who hasn’t wanted to recreate the entire meal featured in Big Night?). Or you might have a specific dish you want to try, and you’ll just work around it.
Or, of course, you might be moved by one and only one ingredient.
Today I’m all about a single ingredient: tamarind — perhaps the most important ingredient that you’ve eaten, but didn’t know you were eating. Most importantly, it’s the key ingredient in dishes that you probably love, but find somewhat intimidating to make, or even contemplate making. I’ll get to that in a moment.
First, tamarind is a pod-like fruit of the Tamarind tree, which is indigenous to East Africa, but is now grown all throughout tropical climes. If eaten green it is sour and acidic; when ripe, it’s a complex sweet and sour fruit with something like a savoury overtone. Full of health benefits, tamarind is a great source of antioxidants. The fruit functions as an anti-inflammatory, lowers cholesterol and promotes a healthy heart.
So you might be saying, “Great, an exotic fruit “¦ what are the chances I’ll ever use it?”
Well, you probably already have used it. Tamarind is a key ingredient in HP Steak Sauce to give it that sweet, tangy flavour (well, that and a pile of sugar). So, yes, it’s from exotic places, but it’s been present at an awful lot of blue-collar meals as well.
And probably for this reason, it’s quite readily accessible in most grocery stores. I bought my last package at Food Basics, but it’s easy to find. It’ll come in two forms: blocks of pulp and seed, very much like how you’d find figs; or, paste/concentrate form. If you buy the former, it’s suggested that you soak it in hot water for five to 10 minutes, then press it through a strainer, to get a pure and fresh tamarind extract.
Depending on how I’m using the fruit, though, I frequently take the liberty of skipping the soaking step. In fact, I usually skip the soaking step, because the majority of the time, I’m using tamarind to make a dish that is as universally loved by diners as it is universally feared by whomever is making dinner: Pad Thai.
That’s right, tamarind fruit is what gives pad thai that tangy, sweet flavour we all love. So leave your kitchen apprehension at the door, grab your wok, and try out my great homemade pad thai recipe — no pre-made sauce required!
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1/2 lime juice
- 1/3 cup sugar
- Chunk of tamarind fruit approx. 7cm by 4cm (or half cup tamarind extract)
- 1 clove garlic, with skin removed
- 1 Tbsp ketchup
- 1 Tbsp peanut butter
- 1 package broad rice noodles
- 1 Tbsp canola oil
- 1 package firm tofu, cubed
- 1 pound shrimp, de-shelled
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup peanuts
- 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
- Extra lime juice (optional)
- Add all ingredients into a blender or food processor. Blend until tamarind is fully chopped and dissolved, and sauce has a dark caramel colour.
- -Drop full package of broad rice noodles into boiling water and leave for 5-7 minutes (rice noodles cook very quickly, so they must be no more than 75% cooked at this point). Empty into colander and set aside.
- -Add canola oil to a large pan (ideally a wok pan) at about 80% heat.
- -Once oil is well heated (about 1-2 minutes), add your shrimp and tofu.
- -Once shrimp are beginning to turn pink, give rice noodles a quick cold-water rinse, then add to pan.
- -Reduce heat to half (or slightly less).
- -Over the next 5 minutes, pour sauce into pan in one-quarter increments, while constantly turning (or folding) the entire mixture slowly.
- -Be sure to test for flavour as you’re going; you may want to squeeze additional lime juice to taste.
- -Once you’ve added all of your sauce, crack 2 eggs on top and fold until you see cooked whites (this won’t take long at all).
- -‘Plate’ your pad thai, and top with peanuts and chopped cilantro. Serve with lime wedges on the side.
- Be sure to bring your day planner to the table, because your guests will be booking their next visit very soon.
- Makes a moderate sized portion for four people
- This recipe makes a vegetarian/pescatarian pad thai. If no such dietary concerns are sitting at your dinner table, this pad thai is great with chicken or beef, too.