Sweet and tangy sauces about in Southeast Asian cuisines, but they are not as generic as some Westerners think. The ingredients that go into a sauce, what other spices and herbs are added, make each sweet and tangy sauce distinct from others.
Take, for instance, the tangy component of a sweet and tangy sauce. Vinegar is the most common choice but the level of acidity will vary depending on the kind of vinegar used. Rice vinegar, for example, is mild with sweet undertones.
Citrus juice is another common ingredient. Lime is native to Southeast Asia so it is used more often than lemon. Kalamansi, more acidic than lime, is another citrus that grows in the region. And then, there's tamarind. Not as easy to use than vinegar or citrus juice but definitely worth all the extra steps in the preparation.
Tamarind is a tree and the fruits are pod-like. The pulp of a young tamarind fruit is sour and ideal for making sour broths and sauces. Worcestershire sauce contains tamarind extract. As the fruit matures, the pulp becomes sweeter. At that stage, tamarind is made into candy or jam or pressed to make juice drinks.
While fresh tamarind is available all year 'round in Southeast Asia, for convenience and for better storage, dried tamarind is just as popular. Dried tamarind is sold in blocks that contain both the pulp and the seeds. The dried tamarind must be rehydrated in hot water to soften the pulp. Once softened, it is pressed through a sieve to separate it from the inedible fibers and seeds. If only the tamarind juice is required in a recipe, the soaking water is simply strained.
Still another way to add tamarind to a dish is by using tamarind paste. Sold in tubs or jars, the paste is made with tamarind pulp and water. Note, however, that commercial tamarind pastes contain other ingredients that dilute the natural flavor of the fruit.
In this recipe for Vietnamese tamarind dipping sauce, dried tamarind pulp is used.
- Place the tamarind pulp in a heatproof bowl.
- Bring half a cup of water to the boil. Pour into the bowl with the tamarind pulp. Allow to soak for about ten minutes. Strain with a wire mesh, pressing the pulp through the mesh. Discard everything that cannot be pressed through the mesh.
- With a mortar and pestle, mash the chili, garlic, and sugar to a paste.
- Gradually add the tamarind extract and fish sauce, mixing as you pour.
- Serve with your favorite grilled seafood.