Taste the Tropics A Blind Date With the Delicious Tamarind

Meet the fruit of the tamarind tree, which has conquered various cuisines thanks to its deeply sweet-and-sour flavor and ability to improve a wide range of dishes.

Tamarind-roasted beetsLimor Laniado Tiroche

The large and beautiful tamarind tree originated in the tropical regions of Africa. From there, it made its way to India and the rest of the tropical world. The Indians were the first to produce a rich, tangy extract from its bean-shaped fruit, which they used as a spice for food and as a treatment for digestive and kidney ailments. Southern Indian cuisine used the tamarind as a tangy spice long before it started using lime.

The Persians, who are fond of sweet-and-sour flavors, adopted the tamarind eagerly and called it “tamar-hodi” – the Indian date – from which our word “tamarind” originates.

The Persians were not the only ones fond of the tamarind. The Georgians were, too, as were the cooks of northern Arabia, including Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

Tamarind is also popular in Thailand, where it is eaten dried and candied, or used as a concentrated syrup to spice soups, sauces and pad thai.

The fruit of the tamarind tree is a pod containing brown seeds that have a fleshy, juicy pulp, with a fragrance reminiscent of apricots, plums and dates. It is used to tenderize meat and prepare jams, candies, drinks and sauces.

Tamarind concentrate, which can be used in place of pomegranate concentrate, gives many Mediterranean dishes an upgrade.

Like pomegranate concentrate, it has a dominant and thick quality with a flavor that is both deeply sour and delicately sweet.

Aleppo meatballs with okra, dried fruits and tamarindLimor Laniado Tiroche

Tamarind can be found in specialty and natural-food stores in various forms. As a slightly tough and dense chunk of pulp full of seeds, it is packed in a square vacuum bag and is a bit hard to work with. The pulp must be mixed with an equal amount of boiling water and mixed well until it melts.

I prefer to use the concentrated syrup (imported from India under the brand name Tamicon, in a round container with a yellow label and red cover). The syrup is black, smooth and concentrated, with no lumps.

Its great advantage is that it can be used without prior preparation, and its dark color gives dishes a deep and arousing color.

In natural-food stores, tamarind can be found in dried form. Before use, it must be softened by soaking in water for several hours. The water in which it was soaked may be sweetened to make natural tamarind juice.

Aleppo meatballs with okra, dried fruits and tamarind

This is one of my favorite meatball dishes. The meatballs come out browned and fragrant with a thick, dark sauce that covers the okra and dried fruits with a wonderful sweet-and-sour flavor.

Ingredients (6 to 8 portions):

500 grams young okra

6 washed garlic cloves, sliced

2 tablespoons oil

15 plums, dried and seeded

15 apricots, dried

For the meatballs:

500 grams ground beef

1 onion, peeled

1 small potato, peeled

1 egg

1/3 cup bread crumbs

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

For the sauce:

2 cups boiling water

4 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons tamarind

2 tablespoons silan (date honey)

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon allspice


For the meatballs: In a food processor or blender or using a grater, grate the onions and potato and put in a bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients for the meatballs and mix well. Refrigerate for an hour if possible. Wet hands and shape into small, round balls.

For the sauce: Heat two tablespoons of oil in a broad, flat cooking pot. Saute the okra on a high flame until it is lightly browned. Add the garlic slices and saute for one minute. Mix in a bowl together with the other ingredients for the sauce and pour into the pot. Bring to a boil.

Add the meatballs and place the dried fruit on top of them. Cover, bring to a boil once more and cook without stirring for 20 minutes. Stir carefully, lower the flame and cook for another 20 minutes. Serve with white rice or mashed potatoes.

Tamarind-roasted beets

After long roasting, the beets come out sweet as candy – wrinkled and concentrated with sweet earthy flavors. They are the most delicious that way – natural, with the peel. They can also be cut into eighths and used to make a lovely salad with goat cheese and fresh greens.

Ingredients (8 portions):

10–12 small, solid beets

For the marinade:

2 tablespoons silan (date honey)

1 tablespoon tamarind

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon wine or sherry vinegar

1/2 teaspoon black pepper, coarsely ground


Wash the beets well with soap and water, being careful not to cut or bruise them. Heat the oven to 230 degrees Celsius. Mix the marinade ingredients in a bowl. Line a baking pan with baking paper and place the beets on it, whole. Brush each beet with the marinade mixture, making sure to cover all sides of it. Cover the baking pan well with two layers of aluminum foil, making sure the seal is complete.

Place in the oven and roast for an hour. Remove the aluminum foil and return the pan to the oven for another half-hour.

The beets are delicious on their own or as a side dish with fish or meat. They may also be cut into eighths (with the peel) and made into a salad with excellent goat cheese or ricotta and purslane, cress, arugula or basil. Sprinkle with ground roasted pistachio nuts, splash with olive oil and enjoy.