I cooked a couple of Thai recipes in Nashville, visiting the Asian foods market near my apartment for the needed exotic herbs, fish sauces, translucent noodles and tamarind paste. Tamarind paste, with it’s equal mix of sour and sweet, gave a pleasant flavor, that “Oh, that’s what it needed!” to several dishes, and became a necessity for Thai noodle dishes as its flavor cannot be replicated.
Although I had purchased and used tamarind paste before, I had never actually laid eyes on the actual fruit until my visit to Thailand. I have to say that the fruit is quite ugly, bearing resemblance to an overgrown string bean that has spoiled and hardened. And that is just the shell — I won’t go further.
Nevertheless, I wanted to make my own tamarind paste at home, so I purchased a large bag of the fruit, and said a prayer that it would not be detected as I went through customs. My prayer was answered, and shortly after arriving home I finished my first batch of homemade tamarind paste, which, as the title suggests, plays a large role in the appetizer course of this progressive dinner. If you have access to fresh tamarind, you can make your own paste with my explanation found at the bottom of this post. If not, simply purchase a package of tamarind pulp at your local Asian foods market and follow the instructions on the package.
Grilled Mushrooms with Tamarind Peanut Dipping Sauce
Ingredients (serves 4-5 people as an appetizer portion)
20 Crimini mushrooms, Shiitake mushrooms, or a mixture of the two
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon tamarind paste
1 tablespoon raw, unsalted peanuts, skins removed
A penny-sized piece of ginger, minced
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon of soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon of honey
1. Slice the stems from the mushrooms so that the mushrooms can stand without rolling. Be sure to save the stems from Crimini mushrooms as they can be used in a later recipe.
2. Place the mushrooms in a bowl and coat them with one tablespoon of olive oil. Set them aside.
3. In a small serving bowl, combine the tamarind paste, water, soy sauce, and honey.
4. Using a mortar and pestle, grind the peppercorns, peanuts, and ginger until the mixture becomes a fine grit, like sand. Add it to the mixture above, stirring until the sauce is well combined.
5. Place the mushrooms on a stove top grill pan over medium heat for one minute or until golden brown grill marks appear. Flip the mushrooms and repeat on the other side.
6. Serve the mushrooms immediately, with the sauce on the side for dipping.
Enjoy! I hope you try this recipe, it pairs perfectly with the first installment of my “A Thai Progressive Dinner” series, Lemongrass and Ginger Iced Tea.
To make tamarind paste from fresh tamarind:
1.Heat 3/4 cup of water on the stove until it comes to a boil.
2. Remove the outer shells from the tamarind pods, compost them. Next, holding the fruit pods gingerly, remove the root-like membranes, taking care to not pull off any of the sticky pulp.
3. Turn off the heat, and place the fruit in the hot water, covering it with a lid. After 15 minutes, check on your fruit. The water should now be thick, with a cloudy, bright brown color and the fruit should be softer when nudged with a spoon. If the water is much cooler, heat the pot for another minute, turn the heat off, and again cover the pot. Repeat this every 15 minutes for an hour.
4. Once the hour is complete, the tamarind pulp should separate easily from the seeds. The best way to do this is with your hands, so once the mixture is cool to the touch, dive in. It will be a goopy mess, but this is the best way to ensure that you get the most pulp from your fruit as possible. Tip: Only discard seeds that are glossy and black-brown in color. An un-glossy seed is a sign that there is still a bit of pulp around it. With some fancy finger work, you can remove the glossy seed from its pulp encasement and add the pulp to your tamarind paste loot. This is a bit of work in the first place, so why not get as much pulp as you can?
5. Blend the pulp in a food processor until a smooth paste, and refrigerate it. Use it within the week, preferably with the recipe above.