Wednesday, August 7, 2013

How to Make Tamarind Chutney

Tamarind chutney pappadum murukku
Tamarind chutney served with pappadum & murukku (Indian snacks)
Tamarinds, like cranberries, are naturally quite sour and tart, requiring sugar or other sweeteners to make them palatable for most people. Both are frequently sold dried or processed into condiments like preserves, jellies and chutneys. While cranberries are used almost exclusively in North American cuisines, tamarinds are common throughout the tropics and used in Asian, African, Indian, West Indian, Caribbean and even Arabian cuisines.

Tamarind chutney is ubiquitous in India and in Indian restaurants in the United States. Although you can buy it by the jar at specialty or gourmet shops, it's relatively easy to make at home if you can find dried tamarind pods at an ethnic market. I found a 14 oz block of dried tamarind pods at a local Indian shop, and it produced enough tamarind pulp to make the following recipe several times. If after soaking your pods you end up with more than the 1 cup of pulp called for in the recipe, simply measure out one cup and place the remainder of the pulp in an airtight container to store in the freezer until ready to use either for more chutney or in other recipes calling for tamarind pulp. The chutney itself will keep in a glass jar in your refrigerator for a good month, but I bet you'll eat it all in less than 30 days because it is surprisingly versatile and pairs well with much more than just Indian food.

The only time-consuming or laborious part of the recipe is the soaking and straining of the tamarind pods. After that, it takes very little time or effort and no prior experience with canning or making preserves. You'll be amazed at how those previously unpalatable sour pods are transformed into a complex, darkly mysterious and earthy-sweet condiment with a mellow fruit tang, exotically seductive spice notes, and a voluptuously enticing body. This chutney complements Indian and southeast Asian foods plus all sorts of meats, poultry, fried or grilled seafod, rice dishes, beans and dal or lentil entrees, and even burgers, sausages and steak (after all, tamarind is an important ingredient in many steak sauces and in Worcestershire sauce).

Dry tamarind pods (about 1/2 lb loose, or a 10-14oz pressed block of pods)
Boiling water (you'll use about a cup for loose pods, or 2 to 3 cups for a block)
1 heaping tsp cumin seed
1 heaping tsp coriander seed
3/4 cup sugar (or more/less to taste)
1 tsp Indian chili powder OR other pure chili powder*
1/4 tsp Kosher or other coarse salt
Optional: Up to 1/8 tsp habanero powder or jolokia/ghost pepper powder**

*Don't use Mexican or other chili powder blend that includes other spices or herbs. You want pure dried powdered chilies without added seasonings.

**For serious chiliheads and other fiery-foods fanatics who want a very hot chutney.

soaking dried tamarind pods
Starting to soak the block of tamarind pods
Place the tamarind pods or block in a large bowl and pour no more than 1 cup of boiling water over them. Let soak until soft and cool enough to handle -- if starting with a pressed block of pods, you will ultimately need to be able to break up the block and get the pods soft and pliable, and thus you will likely need to add additional boiling water, a little at a time, breaking up more of the block with a couple of forks (or your hands once cooled) over time. You want the pods to absorb most of the water so that there is very little liquid in the bowl and you end up with a thick pulp after straining.

While the tamarind is soaking, place the cumin and coriander seeds in a small skillet over medium heat and dry-roast, stirring frequently, until fragrant and just starting to change color. Immediately remove from heat and transfer into a mortar & pestle (my preferred method) or spice grinder, and coarsely grind (don't pulverize), then set aside.

Once tamarind is soft and cool enough to handle, place a large fine strainer over another bowl and use a fork, slotted spoon or your hands to transfer the softened tamarind pods into the strainer (you may need to work in batches) and press out the pulp and juices into the second bowl, leaving the tough pods and any stems or seeds behind in the strainer. Rub or press against the strainer to extract as much pulp as possible. The goal is to end up with a very thick, jam-like pulp. Discard the pods etc. remaining in the strainer.

Measure out 1 cup of tamarind pulp (you can store any remaining pulp in your freezer for later use) and transfer into a pint Mason or other similar glass jar. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until thoroughly combined. Taste for balance and if you prefer a sweeter chutney, add a little more sugar. For a more savory chutney, add a little more salt. And for a spicier, hotter chutney, add more chili powder, or a little habanero or ghost pepper powder. You can serve the chutney right away, or cover tightly with lid and refrigerate overnight (the flavors will meld and develop quite nicely overnight).

Zestfully yours,

PS:  If you enjoy Indian food and are looking for recipes with which to enjoy your homemade tamarind chutney, simply enter "Indian recipe" into the search box at the top of this blog, or visit our Indian Recipes board on the Carolina Sauce Company Pinterest site.

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