Sometimes called Tamarind purée. Made from the flesh of Tamarind pods it adds a sweet sour tartness to soups,stir fry dishes and salads and appears in many South East Asian and Indian dishes. At a pinch you could use tomatoes, lemon juice or vinegar but the taste is distinctly different. If substituting with lemon juice use twice the quantity called for in the recipe. The pulp comes in several forms: whole green pods (eventually turning dark brown), ripe pulp available in ‘bricks’ about the size of a small paperback book and as tamarind concentrate in plastic jars.
I tend to use the ‘bricks’. Not least because here in the UK they’re much more readily available than the fresh pods. You’ll find these pulp ‘bricks’ in the dried foods section of most Asian supermarkets. The pulp, similar to dried prunes in colour, is sold in blocks in both seeded and seedless forms. To make this soak a ping-pong ball sized piece of Tamarind pulp (seedless or otherwise) in 120ml of hot water, or 3 tbsp in 225ml of hot water, until soft. Squeeze the pulp repeatedly with your fingers to dissolve it and then pour the lot into a strainer, forcing the liquid through with the back of a spoon. Discard the fibrous material and just use the thick liquid.
It’s a right palaver but worth the effort for the taste it adds. But because it takes some effort, I tend to make up a whole ‘brick’ of the stuff in one go and use ice-cube freezer bags to store the surplus in the freezer for later. They can be quickly and easily de-frosted when you need them.
Starting with either the green tamarind pods or the tamarind pulp ‘bricks’ will give you the best flavour. Second best are the jars of concentrate and although you can also get a tamarind soup base in sachet form these are really not that good.