Tamarind is a pod-like fruit that is used in Southeast Asian and Indian cooking. It is also available candied. It has a hard, dry, light brown exterior and several hard seeds. The flesh is reddish brown in colour, slightly chewy in texture, and unique and tart in flavour. If you’re not familiar with tamarind, you might be surprised to learn that it is an ingredient in Worcestershire and HP steak sauce. On a side note, I like tamarind, but I dislike those sauces.
If you’re starting with fresh tamarind, discard the shell, the seeds, and the fibrous thread that runs along the outside of the flesh. Otherwise, tamarind can be purchased in other forms. There doesn’t seem to be a consistent use of terms that distinguish between those options. So depending on the source, it can be very confusing as to what a recipe actually calls for. Here is my general understanding: Wet tamarind or tamarind block is shown on the right side of the photo above. This is often simply labeled as “tamarind”. I have even seen this referred to as tamarind “paste”. But in general, tamarind paste, tamarind juice, and tamarind water usually refer to tamarind that has been prepared for cooking. To add further confusion, the term tamarind pulp has been used to describe both the flesh of tamarind (wet tamarind / tamarind block) and, contrarily, the parts of the tamarind that do not “dissolve” or mix with water.
To make tamarind paste / juice / water, allow 1 tbsp wet tamarind / tamarind block to soften in a few tablespoons of hot water. Then use your fingers to mash the tamarind until it “dissolves” and you are left with a light brown coloured, thick, sauce-like paste. Add more hot water as necessary. Discard the seeds and any pieces that have not mixed or dissolved with the water. Your paste can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a few weeks.
Pre-mixed tamarind can also be purchased (shown on the left side of the photo above). Using this bottled tamarind paste is very convenient, but the taste of freshly prepared tamarind is better. Note that this jarred tamarind paste is Not the same thing as jarred tamarind “concentrate”. Concentrate needs to be diluted with water before use.
Whether you’re using bottled tamarind paste, or you’re making your own tamarind juice/water, use whatever amount of this that the recipe calls for.