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Indian Cooking - Tamarind

The finger like fruit of the tamarind tree with its sweet and sour taste is a spice frequently used in Indian cooking. The seeds of the tamarind tree are flat and brown in color. It is a common practice among rural communities to substitute pound tamarind seeds for flour.

It is very common to spot tamarind trees especially in South Indian States. Though not indigenous to the sub continent, tamarind is now a part of Indian flora. Tamarind is called ‘imli’ in Hindi and ‘puzhi’ in Tamil. Each region has its own local name for tamarind as well.

The dry crust of the tamarind is peeled out and the fleshy fruit within is used in Indian cooking. Each fruit may contain between 4 and 6 seeds which are usually removed before preparing pulp extract. Tamarind is available in slabs, as an extract or as balls.

Tamarind preserves food and is often used to prepare and store dishes. ‘Puliotharai’ is a South Indian rice dish prepared using tamarind pulp. This dish does not spoil easily and is often packed for long trips and picnics. An extract to prepare this dish called ‘Pulikachal’ can be prepared and stored in the refrigerator to make 'Puliotharai' instantly.

A thick pulp extracted from tamarind is combined with lentils, meat, fish and vegetables to make delectable Indian curries. ‘Rasam’ is a spicy South Indian soup made with tamarind extract, tomatoes, pepper and cumin seeds. Chutneys and sauces made with tamarind are also consumed in India. Tamarind is often used as a marinade with meats as it softens the meat without distinctly altering its flavor.

Tamarind peps up dishes with a tangy taste and adds on a host of nutritional benefits being rich in iron, calcium, copper, potassium and other minerals and vitamins. Ayurveda which is the traditional Indian medical system finds tamarind useful to treat digestive disorders and other ailments. Tamarind has a cooling effect on the body too.

Indian folklore is dotted with references to tamarind and over the years several proverbs have been said based on the spice. Now there is no doubt that the tangy tamarind is a very special Indian cooking ingredient.

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