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The sour and fruity taste of tamarind merges well with the heat of chiles and gives many South Indian dishes their hot and sour character, and their dark colour. In India, tamarind is mostly combined with meat or legumes (lentils, chick peas or beans). The pulp is sold dry and must be soaked before usage. Only the water is then added to the food. Alternatively (and more comfortably), tamarind extract may be used with the same effect.
A well-known example of a Southern Indian dish employing tamarind is vindaloo, a fiery pork stew from Goa. Goa is an Indian union state on the West coast with a large proportion of Christans, having been a Portuguese colony until the 1960s; as a Portuguese heritage, pork is very popular in Goan cooking. Basically, vindaloo is a spicy, tropical version of Portuguese porco vinho e alho (see garlic): Pork is marinated with a paste made from vinegar (instead of the original wine), ground onions, garlic, ginger and a host of spices (chile, cloves, cinnamon, pepper, cumin, toasted black mustard seeds) for several hours and then, together with the marinade and tamarind water, stewed until tender. Variants with poultry instead of pork are popular with Hindus and Muslims. Outside of India, the recipe is often bastardized by adding potatoes due to confusion with Hindi alu potato. Another South Indian food employing tamarind is the vegetable rice dish bese bele from Karnataka (see coconut).
Main constituents - Ripe tamarinds contain sugars (35 bis 50%), whose sweet taste is, however, outweighted by up to 20% tartaric acid which has an intensively acidic taste and depresses the pH down to 3.15. Some cultivars of tamarind decompose the tartaric acid on ripening (sweet tamarind) and can be eaten raw as fruit. Tamarind fruit is rich in some metal ions (calcium, potassium, zinc, iron).
Although only a small minority of Western consumers knows tamarind today, there is still one product containing tamarinds that has gained some importance in international cuisine: Worcester sauce, which may be called Indian inspired in the same way as curry powder. See cloves for details.
In peninsular Southeast Asia (Vietnam and Thailand), the pods are both used ripe and unripe; in the fresh state, their tartness is less fruity and more astringent. Fresh tamarind pods cannot be dried or otherwise preserved, except by deep-freezing. Tamarind is often used for acidic soups, which are very refreshing in the tropical climate of Vietnam and Cambodia.
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