The tamarind tree native to Africa and now cultivated in India and Mexico, is used in Indian, Thai, and Mexican cuisines. Its long pods contain large hard seeds surrounded by a sticky, edible, very tart paste. Its flavor adds piquancy to curries, chutneys, marinades, and barbecue sauces — anywhere that a sour, slightly citrusy, accent is desired.
Tamarind can be purchased in whole dried pods, in cellophane packets that contain the pulp and the seeds, or as a seedless paste. Since only the paste is edible, a plastic tub of tamarind concentrate (seedless pulp) is convenient, easy to use, and can be stored virtually indefinitely.
If you choose to buy tamarind pods, you will need to simmer them in a small amount of water until they are softened, about 15 minutes, then mash the pods in the pan to extract the pulp, and finally strain the mixture to remove any solids. If you purchase pulp that contains seeds, the seeds can be removed by picking them out of the thick paste.
Tamarind sauces are thinned mixtures used as condiments or for dipping or seasoning, and may contain ingredients in addition to pure tamarind.
Sauce or gravy seasoned with tamarind is an excellent accompaniment to grilled meats but is also good with smoky grilled tofu and vegetables. The gravy may be made up to two days before serving, and reheated just until simmering.