Found in India and tropical Africa, tamarind trees produce flat pods containing tart, juicy seeds. Tamarind seeds are found in many Asian and African dishes, but are most prominent in Indian cuisine. Enjoy the sweet and sour flavor of tamarind seeds and the nutritional properties -- including the ability to sooth the digestive system -- by incorporating them into your diet.
Many people enjoy snacking on toasted tamarind seeds. Remove the shell of a tamarind pod and, if you like, eat the pulp raw. Toast the seeds in a pan over medium heat for five minutes. Shake the pan occasionally to ensure the seeds roast evenly. Let the seeds cool before cracking the outer shell with your teeth and removing the seed with your fingers. The seeds will still be very hard so you may have to chew and suck on them for a while before you can swallow them. Chewing on tamarind seeds is said to aid digestion.
In southern India, paste made from tamarind seeds is the primary component of many sauces used to marinate meats. Buy cakes of dried tamarind pulp and seeds from Asian spice markets and soak the blocks in warm water for approximately 20 minutes. Strain the water to remove the hard seeds and pulp fibers. Combine the tamarind marinade with vinegar or extra spices for more flavor. Stew meats in the marinade until the meat is tender and serve it alongside rice and bread.
Lentils are a staple of Indian cuisine and the centerpiece of many Indian vegetarian meals. You can add more flavor to lentil dishes by simmering the legumes in tamarind water. After soaking dried tamarind blocks in warm water, drain the pulp and seeds from the water and bring it to a boil. Add lentils and allow them to simmer until tender. If necessary, add more water to the tamarind base to prevent the legumes from sticking to the pot. Lentils will have a sweet flavor that complements spicy dishes and salty breads.
Tamarind makes a pungent addition to flat breads. Some chefs grind tamarind seeds into a fine flour and use it as the primary ingredient in their breads. Other Indian cooks use tamarind juice made from the pulp and seeds as the liquid component of breads made with rice and wheat flours. You can also add tartness to sweet fruit breads by folding chunks of tamarind seed pulp into your bread dough just as you might normally use dates or raisins. Serve tamarind breads alongside any southern Indian dish.
Sarah Badger is a certified pilates and group fitness instructor, writer and dance teacher. Her work has appeared in "Dance Spirit" magazine and several literary journals. Badger earned her bachelor's degree in English and religious studies from Marymount Manhattan College, and currently owns a dance and fitness studio in upstate New York.