Tamarindus indica. The tamarind tree is tall and generous, giving shade from Africa to India and Southeast Asia. Its tender leaves are used to make a Burmese salad. Its fruit (magyi thi in Burmese) grows in long pale pods, inside which is a sticky brown mass of flesh and seeds. Some tamarind is tart-sweet and can be eaten as a (rather sticky) snack; and some is just tart. Tart tamarind is used as a souring agent from Vietnam to India and Pakistan. The name comes from the Arabic tamar-hindi, meaning “date [tamir] from India.”
The recipes in this book all call for tamarind pulp. It is the unrefined pulp of the fruit, dark brown, nearly black, that includes seeds and a few membranes, as well as the flavorful flesh. It is sold in Asian groceries, usually in small dark rectangular blocks wrapped in clear plastic and labeled me chua in Vietnamese and mak kham in Thai. Before it is added in cooking, it must be chopped into smaller pieces and soaked in a little hot water for a few minutes to soften (so that the pulp—the flavor—separates from the seeds), then strained through a sieve into a bowl. The tamarind liquid (magyi thi hnit in Burmese) is tart and smooth, a wonderful souring agent; the seeds and pulp are discarded. Instructions for this simple process are included with each recipe.
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