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The Honolulu Advertiser

By Wanda Adams

Posted on: Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Tart and tasty tamarind has many uses

 • Beef, au naturel


Find food editor Wanda Adams' "My Island Plate" blog online every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at www.honoluluadvertiser.com/islandlife

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Horticulturalist, Advertiser garden writer and enthusiastic home cook Heidi Bornhorst e-mailed to ask if I could find "an old Maui recipe" for a sort of tamarind mui. As she recalls it, the tamarind was simmered in a soy sauce-sugar-ginger mixture, then laid out on waxed paper to dry. Sounds interesting intense, like salt seed, I imagine. I've scoured many of my old cookbooks, especially all the Maui ones, and come up with very little for tamarind and nothing that resembles Heidi's remembered treat.

Anybody ever heard of this or know the technique or proportions? Bernardino Aquiat, of our staff, said he's seen something like this prepared: The woman mashed the tamarind before placing it in a teriyaki-type sauce.

"The ginger is the key," he said. "Then they put a pinch of sugar for balance."

What's not clear to me is how this is used; is it a sauce or stew or what? It sounds different than what Heidi is describing.


Tamarind, a staple in cuisines around the world from India to the Middle East, is a tall shade tree. You'll see it in parks and on school grounds all over the Islands. The long, knobby brown pods contain seeds, which Southeast Asians like to toast and eat the way you might pepitas (pumpkin seeds). The brown, stringy-but-soft flesh, fresh or dried and even sometimes ground, is used in marinades and sauces and is a key ingredient in Worcestershire sauce, which has Indian roots.

Tamarind is tangy to the point of puckery, so it is usually balanced with sugar or sweet ingredients, such as fruit.

Tamarind is little used in Isle recipes today, but residents once routinely used the pods gathered from their backyard trees to make recipes such as tamarind tea or tamarindade (like lemonade, yeah?). I also found several recipes for tamarind chutney in old cookbooks.

The tamarindade recipe in the 1943 Hilo Woman's Club cookbook reads: "Soak the pulp of 8 or 10 tamarinds in a small pitcher of water for 1/4 hour. Add sugar to taste and chill."

If you're going to try this, I'd suggest using pre-seeded tamarind, which can be found in Chinatown and some Asian groceries in small, cellophane-wrapped blocks or in jars or cans. If you use tamarind you've gathered yourself, be sure it's from trees that haven't been sprayed with potentially hazardous chemicals.

To seed tamarind: First, split the ripe pods and lift out the shells (they pop out easily, if messily). Then, hold the stem in one hand and push the pulp down with the fingers of the other hand. A good Web site on tamarind is www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/tamarind.html.

Here's a recipe for Thai tamarind sauce from http://epicurious.com. It's meant to be served with grilled shrimp or fried fish.

For the palm sugar, you may substitute brown sugar if you wish.


• 1 tablespoon tamarind from a pliable block

• 1/3 cup water

• 1 tablespoon peanut oil

• 1 tablespoon chopped, cleaned fresh cilantro roots and/or stems, pounded to a paste

• 1 tablespoon minced garlic

• 1 tablespoon Sriracha or other Asian hot chile sauce

• 1 1/4 tablespoons palm sugar, or to taste

• 1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce (preferably Thai naam pla), or to taste

Place tamarind in a bowl with water and rub with your fingers to dissolve pulp. Pour through a sieve into a bowl, pressing hard on solids, and discard solids.

Heat oil in a small heavy saucepan over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then cook cilantro paste and garlic, stirring, until fragrant. Stir in hot sauce, 3 tablespoons tamarind juice, palm sugar, and fish sauce. Simmer until thickened to consistency of light syrup, about 3 minutes.

Send recipe requests to Wanda Adams, Food Editor, The Honolulu Advertiser, 605 Kapiolani Blvd., Honolulu, HI 96813; fax, 525-8055; e-mail wadams@honoluluadvertiser.com.