Dec 11, 2004

Tamarind Tango


Tamarind is so sour that Marco Polo claimed the Malabar pirates made their victims swallow a mixture of tamarind and sea water, forcing them to vomit the entire contents of their stomach, revealing any pearls they may have swallowed to conceal them.

Tamarind pulp has more sugar and fruit acid per volume than any other fruit. It is also an ingredient in Worcestershire sauce.

I'm chomping on some excruciatingly sweet golden Thai tamarind. It is unusually sweet, unlike the Philippine variety which is well, excruciatingly sour. As a kid growing up in a tropical country, sweet and sour tamarind candy balls covered in white sugar are one of my favorite treats. Tamarind candy is usually wrapped in colored cellophane and sold in ethnic fruit food stalls. It's the fruit version of Cry Baby Extra Sour Gumballs sold in candy shops.

Tamarind is a staple in Asian cooking. It's succinct, distinct, tongue curling sourness makes it a great condiment to naturally sour soups and sauces.

Here's a Thai-inspired vegetarian tamarind sauce that’s divinely fruity and flavourful. It melds with the flavours of Thai Garlic Chips, fresh scallions, and cilantro. The recipe is adapted from Theresa Volpe Laursen and Byron Laursen's book, Bangkok to Bali in 30 Minutes.

Sweet-and-Sour Tamarind Sauce

½ cup vegetable broth or water
1 tablespoon palm sugar or light brown sugar
2 tablespoons liquid tamarind concentrate
2 teaspoons light soy sauce

Golden Tofu Squares

One 24-ounce bottle peanut or vegetable oil
one 15-ounce package soft (silken) tofu, drained and cut into 12 pieces about 2 ¼ x 1 ¼ x I inch
2 slender scallions (white and tender green parts), angle-cut into thin slices
Thai Fried Garlic chips (see below)
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro, including the stems.

1. To make the sauce, heat the vegetable broth and sugar together in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and well blended with the broth and bring to boil. Stir in the tamarind sauce and soy sauce, reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, and cook, stirring a few times, until the sauce begins to thicken, 3 to 5 minutes. Cover and set aside, off the heat.

2. To make the tofu squares, pour the oil into a large, deep skillet and heat over medium-high heat to 360 degrees F. (To test the oil temperature, dip a wooden spoon in the hot oil; it should bubble and sizzle around the bowl of the spoon.) Fry the tofu squares, a few at a time, turning them after about 1 minute on each side, until puffy and golden brown on all sides, about 6 minutes total. Remove with a wire skimmer or slotted spoon and drain on a baker’s rack with paper towels placed underneath.

3. Gently rewarm the sauce, if necessary. Transfer the fried tofu to a serving platter and sprinkle with the scallions and garlic chops. Top with the cilantro. Serve hot, with the tamarind sauce on the side.

Thai Fried Garlic Chips

1 cup peanut or vegetable oil
¼ cup thinly sliced garlic (about 12 cloves)
1. Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat. When hot, drop in a slice of garlic. If it sizzles, the oil is hot enough. Add the rest of the garlic and stir-fry just until it becomes aromatic and turns a pale golden color, about 1 ½ minutes.

2. Remove the skilled from the heat, lift the garlic chips out of the oil with a wire skimmer or slotted spoon, and transfer to paper towels to drain. Serve warm, or at room temperature. The chips will keep for a few days if stored in an air-tight container.


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