The sharp and sweet acidity of the tamarind fruit is a much-loved tool of Indian and Pakistani cooks, as well as other parts of Asia and the Middle East. But it has never become a key player in western larders, which is a shame, because it shouldn’t be restricted to one cuisine. I often interchange tamarind with vinegar or citrus, and it’s already familiar to Brits through Worcestershire and HP sauces, where it provides the familiar, sharp kick.
Prawn and fenugreek stew with tamarind and coriander (pictured above)
This southern Iranian dish features fresh fenugreek, which can be found in Middle Eastern shops and online. The leaves add a more herbaceous dimension than the seeds, although the latter would work here, too. It’s important to cook the herbs, because that creates the deep flavour. Serve with rice.
Prep 20 min
Cook 50 min
500g raw king prawns, peeled and deveined
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground turmeric
5 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
Salt and black pepper
100g tamarind pulp
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 green chillies, finely chopped
5 spring onions, finely sliced
80g coriander leaves, finely chopped, plus 5g finely shredded leaves, to serve
50g parsley leaves, finely chopped
50g fenugreek leaves, finely chopped (or 2 tsp fenugreek seeds finely crushed in a spice grinder)
1 tbsp plain flour
1½ tsp ground coriander
1½ tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
⅛ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp chilli flakes
1 tbsp soft brown sugar
Mix the prawns with a tablespoon of oil, the turmeric, one crushed garlic clove and half a teaspoon of salt, then leave to marinate.
Soak the tamarind in 200ml hot water for 20 minutes, then use your hands to separate as much pulp as possible from the seeds and fibre. Strain into a sieve, pressing down on the pulp to extract as much liquid as you can: you should end up with about 160ml tamarind liquid.
Heat two tablespoons of oil in a large saute pan on a medium heat, then sweat the onion for 10 minutes, until soft and lightly browned. Add the rest of the garlic and half the green chillies, and cook, stirring, for a minute. Add the spring onions, herbs and fenugreek, and cook on a medium-low heat for 20 minutes, stirring often, until deep green.
Add the flour, spices, chilli flakes, a teaspoon and a half of salt and a generous grind of pepper, cook for 30 seconds, then add the tamarind liquid, sugar and 500ml water, and simmer for 10 minutes, until the sauce thickens and comes together.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a frying pan on a high flame. Fry a third of the prawns for two minutes on each side, until golden brown, then move to a plate.
Stir the remaining raw prawns into the sauce and cook for three minutes, until just cooked through.
Serve the stew from the pan or a large bowl, sprinkled with coriander, the fried prawns and the remaining green chillies.
Mint, lime and tamarind sauce
This sharp, fresh mint sauce is a condiment for keeping in the fridge. I guarantee you’ll find yourself reaching out for it with increasing regularity: it’s great with lamb or pork, spooned over rice or mixed with vegetables.
I prefer to extract tamarind paste from compressed pulp. Shop-bought pastes vary greatly in concentration of flavour and are generally sharper and more intense than paste you make yourself, so add it gradually, until you get a level of acidity you like.
Prep 8 min
Cook 3 min
Makes 1 small jar – about 180ml
2 tsp shop-bought tamarind paste, or a lemon-sized piece of tamarind pulp
35g mint leaves
15g parsley leaves, roughly chopped
1 tbsp white-wine vinegar
1 tbsp honey
1 anchovy fillet, drained
½ tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp ground Iranian lime (optional)
2 green chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
1 small garlic clove, peeled and crushed
1 tsp dijon mustard
Zest of 1 lime, finely grated
2 tbsp olive oil
If using, soak the tamarind pulp in 60ml lukewarm water for a few minutes, work with your hands until the pulp falls away from the seeds, then pass through a fine sieve to make a thick paste. It will keep in the fridge for up to a month.
Blitz two teaspoons of shop-bought tamarind paste – or two to three teaspoons of the homemade paste – with the remaining ingredients, two tablespoons of water and a quarter-teaspoon of salt: you should end up with a thick, green paste. Spoon into a clean jar and refrigerate for up to a week.
Asparagus, pistachio and mint salad
This light, simple salad is perfect alongside a meat or veggie main. Counterintuitively, the sharp sauce complements the gentle flavour of the asparagus, rather than overpowering it. Gently mix the salad mere seconds before serving, to keep the thin asparagus slices as fresh as possible.
Prep 5 min
Cook 10 min
Serves 4 as a side
400g thick-stemmed asparagus, woody ends snapped off
1½ tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lime juice
15g mint leaves, roughly shredded
30g pistachio, very lightly toasted and roughly chopped
2 tbsp mint, lime and tamarind sauce (see previous recipe)
Using a peeler or mandoline, slice the asparagus lengthways into fine strips and mix in a bowl with a teaspoon and a half of oil, a teaspoon and a half of lime juice, half the mint leaves, half the pistachios and an eighth of a teaspoon of salt.
In a small bowl, stir the mint, lime and tamarind sauce with the remaining oil and lime juice and an eighth of a teaspoon of salt.
Just before serving, spoon the sauce over the asparagus, and sprinkle on the remaining mint and pistachios.
Pork chops with tamarind and Chinese five-spice
Brining chops doesn’t only add flavour to the meat – it also makes them incredibly tender. Serve with rice or new potatoes.
Prep 10 min
Brining 4 hr+
Cook 50 min
2½ tbsp Chinese five-spice
3 tbsp maple syrup
4 pork chops, about 2cm thick and 250g each
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp tamarind paste
90g mint, lime and tamarind sauce (see earlier recipe)
For the herb salad
20g mint leaves
10g parsley leaves
30g baby spinach, roughly shredded
4 spring onions, finely sliced on an angle
2 red chillies, deseeded and finely sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp lime juice
Fill a small saucepan with 500ml water, put on a medium-high heat and add half the five-spice, two tablespoons of maple syrup and two teaspoons of salt. Once the salt has dissolved and the water is simmering, turn off the heat and leave to cool completely.
Put the chops in a large bowl, pour over the cooled brine and refrigerate for at least four hours, and ideally overnight.
Put the remaining five-spice in a small bowl and mix with a third of a teaspoon of salt, the oil, the tamarind paste and the remaining maple syrup. Drain the chops (discard the brine) and pat dry. Coat the chops in the five-spice mix and set aside for 30 minutes.
Heat the oven to 220C/425F/gas 7 and put a griddle pan on a high heat. Once the pan is hot, grill the chops for 90 seconds on each side, until they have good char lines, then transfer to a baking tray and roast for about five minutes, depending on thickness, until the meat is just cooked. Leave to rest for five minutes before serving.
While the chops are cooking and resting, mix all the ingredients for the salad with an eighth of a teaspoon of salt. Serve each chop with the salad and a generous spoonful of the mint, lime and tamarind sauce.