09 October 2010

Tamarind Paste-?!?!

Tamarind paste, num num!
What the heck do you do with this stuff? Our friends gave this to us, along with a whole bundle of other sauces and exotic ingredients, when they moved.  I’ve seen this in Asian and also in Mexican supermarkets in different forms, but I had no idea what purpose it served. It’s a tropical fruit that grows all over India, and its pulp is very sour, acting as a good foil to sweeter ingredients in chutneys and to spicy curries. As a Midwesterner, I have not often been one to mix sweet and savory ingredients into dishes, so I definitely needed some help with this one. I turned to the excellent Laxmi’s Vegetarian Kitchen by Laxmi Hiremath (1995) and slightly revised her recipe for this dish from the delta region of Tanjore in southern India.

Tamarind-Garlic Rice

Serves 8

½ tsp. coriander seeds

1 tsp. dried yellow split peas

½ tsp. cumin seeds

2 dried red chiles, stemmed

Pinch of cinnamon

2 cups basmati rice, rinsed and drained

3 cups water

1 tsp. salt

1 ½ Tbsp. canola or peanut oil

½ tsp. mustard seeds

½ Tbs. sliced fresh garlic

¼ tsp. turmeric

½ tsp. tamarind paste

2 Tbs. chopped cashews

½ tsp. brown sugar

2 Tbsp. ghee

Toast the coriander, split peas, cumin, and chiles in a dry frying pan on medium heat until the spices are aromatic and the seeds start to darken, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a spice grinder and grind to a fine powder. Stir in pinch cinnamon and set aside.

Cook the rice in the three cups of water and salt in a Dutch oven. Set aside.

Heat oil in a medium saucepan on medium-high heat. Add the mustard seeds. When seeds start to pop, reduce heat to medium-low and stir in garlic and turmeric. Stir constantly, cooking until garlic starts to brown (3-4 minutes). Add the tamarind paste and ¾ cup of water. Whisk ingredients together, bring to a boil, and then simmer for 5 minutes.

Stir in the nuts and brown sugar and remove saucepan from heat. Pour the mixture over the rice in the Dutch oven and mix thoroughly. Cover and place on hot burner, cooking gently until all liquid is absorbed (5-8 minutes). Drizzle the top of the rice with 2 Tbsp. ghee and serve hot alongside a main dish of your choice.