The properties attributed to this tropical fruit are almost magical - an aphrodisiac, antiseptic, breath freshener, teeth whitener - and that's before it gets to the kitchen, where it lends a deep, rich, sweet-sour flavour to dishes and acts as a meat tenderizer. Tamarind trees produce fresh pods that are either sold fresh or processed into pulp, syrups and concentrates for convenience and long shelf life.
IN THE KITCHEN
You may think you've never tried tamarind, however it is an essential ingredient in several traditional British condiments, especially brown sauce and chutneys. Egypt, Mexico and India are among the countries in which tamarind is made into long refreshing drinks. In Tobago and Vietnam it is used for healthy sweetmeats. It is a common souring agent in curries, glazes and marinades and goes particularly well with crab and fish. Try stirring a spoonful of tamarind paste into tartare sauce for an exciting accompaniment to grilled fish or chicken. If you have fresh pods, try eating them raw, peeled and sprinkled with salt and chilli.
Some supermarkets sell fresh tamarind pods; look out for it in Caribbean communities. Semi-dried tamarind pulp or paste will keep almost indefinitely if well-wrapped and stored in the refrigerator. It comes in soft rectangular blocks wrapped in plastic - you can easily see the remnants of fibres and seeds that need to be filtered out before cooking. The darker, sourer tamarind concentrated paste is a more processed product (consequently the flavour is compromised) and sold in tubs.
If using fresh tamarind, peel the pods, removing the veins that run along the sides. Open up the fruit and push the pale green flesh and shiny black seeds through a sieve. To use the semi-dried pulp, soak a ball of pulp in a dish of hot water for 15-30 minutes depending on size, mashing it with a spoon to help it break down. Pass the liquid through a sieve to remove the fibres and seeds. Tamarind concentrate simply needs diluting with hot water.