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How to Make Tamarind Paste

I’ve been seeking the Perfect Pad Thai for sometime now, and just haven’t liked any of the versions I’ve tried all that much.

However, after thoroughly reading She Simmers’ treatise on Pad Thai (there are FIVE PAGES devoted to how to make Pad Thai) I feel like I’m getting awfully close. Not there yet – but REALLY close.

Of particular help was her tutorial on how to handle the noodles. The package directions and most sources on the Internet often tell you to boil the noodles, but I quickly discovered this makes an icky glommy mess of rice noodles. That’s just wrong! I’M TALKING TO YOU, TRADER JOE’S!

So then I switched to just soaking them – but how to tell when they’re soaked ENOUGH? Well She Simmers cleared that up for me as well – now I know I can quit soaking them when they pass the twirl test – take a rice noodle and wrap it around your finger several times. If it wraps nicely and doesn’t keep trying to sproing back on you or break, it’s soaked. If not – soak it a little while longer. For the first time, I can reliably stir fry rice noodles now and have them come out right EVERY TIME, whereas before sometimes they would come out ok, but sometimes they would just be overcooked and falling apart.

Then there was the tamarind called for – I’ve cooked Indian style food for decades, but I’ve always shied away from block tamarind because I could never get clear instructions regarding how to handle it. “Oh, just soak with some water and then take out the seeds and fiber”.

Ummm, ok – how much water? “Oh, enough”. How to remove the seeds and fiber? “Oh just take it out with hand, squeeze out the water.”

I tried this a few times and it never worked out the way I thought it should so I finally gave up and relegated myself to using the Tamcon/Tamicon “concentrated” tamarind paste – which is NOT, I repeat NOT, appropriate for use in making Pad Thai. For making sambar or rasam – OK, but anything else, it’s just the wrong stuff.

Other times I was steered by the workers at Asian Markets to this thin watery stuff that was basically pretty similar to the Tamcon/Tamicon stuff, only with a lot more water in it. Usually it’s labeled “tamarind water” and that’s a pretty apt description.

Uh-uh. This is ALSO not appropriate for Pad Thai. There is NO pulp in the Tamcon/Tamicon concentrate, and not much in this other stuff. Trust me, no matter what somebody in an Asian market tells you, it’s the wrong stuff.

Rogue’s Gallery of the Wrong Stuff:
TamiconTamconTamarind concetrate

The basic “recipe” for extracting pulp from a block of tamarind is to use a volume of water (in ounces) equal to the weight (in ounces, but this is by weight) of the block tamarind.

Example: for each 8 oz by weight of tamarind, use 1 cup (8 fluid oz) of water.

The rest is all procedure.

You want the block tamarind that is already mostly pretty well cleaned up – if it looks like this: Messy Tamarind it is NOT what you want – that stuff has a ton of hulls and seeds in it. You can clean it and use it but there’s a lot more waste and it’s a huge pain. Also, I wouldn’t use a good strainer – those seeds and hull pieces can be tough.

The stuff you want will look sort of like a black square or rectangle of tar:

Not-quite-so-messy Tamarind Block Tamarind

It may say “Seedless” and should be fairly seedless (though I usually find a very few seeds anyway). It may say “wet tamarind”. It may only be labeled in the script of the country of origin. But it will look something like one of these, and not like the other picture above.

You will be using about 1 ⅝ cups (1.5c plus 2 T) of water with one full 14 oz block of tamarind. This will make enough tamarind for about 2 ¾ recipes of Pad Thai, using the sauce recipe from She Simmers. You can freeze both the pulp and the paste, so no worries there.

On She Simmers, she recommends letting the tamarind block soak with the water for about 20 mins, then squeezing the fiber and seed remnants out by hand. However, being the somewhat squeamish and definitely lazy barbarian cook that I am, I prefer to use HOT water and let it soak until it looks like the tamarind has absorbed nearly all the water – a process of a couple of hours, but a couple of hours that I don’t have to do a darn thing to it. So I just break up the tamarind block in the hot water with a coupe of forks and let it sit there until I can’t see any “loose” water any more.

You can squeeze this stuff out by hand, but I’ve tried it and it is sticky and messy to do it that way. So I go ahead and use the squish-it-through-a-sieve process instead. I get a very smooth, very consistent, fiber-free pulp as a result, whereas squeezing it by hand means stuff gets by me into the paste that I don’t care for, plus, well, I just don’t like the sticky feel of that stuff squishing through my fingers. Also, I waste more of the good stuff trying to do it that way – some pulp gets thrown away with the fiber and seeds. YMMV. Use the technique that works for you.

Spoon about a quarter or half of the soaked tamarind into a hand-held sieve which you rest over a large mixing bowl. Secure the sieve so it doesn’t slid around (just grab the handle) and use a soup spoon or a smallish serving spoon to scrape away at the mess in the sieve to force the pulp out, but leaving the fiber and other junk behind. When it looks like you’ve squooshed the vast majority of the good stuff out – what’s left will be much dryer though still a bit sticky – scrape down the outside of the sieve with a rubber spatula into the bowl of tamarind pulp, and toss the stuff from INSIDE the sieve. Then do the next batch.

Squishing with your hands is probably quicker, but it’s icky and (at least when I do it) pretty wasteful. If you’re ick tolerance is higher than mine (and if you weren’t raised by people who lived through the Depression so wasting ANYTHING strikes you as the worst sin that doesn’t actually involve torture or murder) you may want to go ahead and do it that way, but this is what I’m most comfortable with.

canned tamarind pulp
Note the pulpy bits
coating the side of the jar

For those who find this process still icky and somewhat onerous, take heart – there is an alternative, though I’ve never seen it anywhere but in an Indian grocery. You CAN buy cleaned-up tamarind pulp – PULP, not the tamarind water, tamarind juice, or tamarind “concentrate” you’ve been warned against (see the Rogue’s Gallery above). Look carefully at the jar (click the pic to the left for a larger view) and if you can see pulpy solids and if it is thick and gloppy (but not like jelly), rather than thin and watery, you can use that. It may be labeled “Paste”, “Puree”, or, most confusing of all, “Concentrate”. Look carefully at it to make sure you’re getting the actual pulp and not the watery stuff or jelly-like types of concentrate. If in an Indian grocery, tell the proprietor that you want the sort of tamarind pulp (in a jar) that is used for making chutney. It won’t be quite as thick as if you make it yourself from block tamarind; but it’ll be a lot quicker and easier.

Oh yeah, and a lot less icky.

Canned tamarind pulpTamPasteTamPasteTamPasteTamPasteTamPasteTamarindPaste

Easy Buttercream Frosting

We interrupt the Pad Thai experimentation for a brief foray into the land of desserts.

Yes, the Pad Thai experiment has reached it’s inevitable (and successful) conclusion.

No, I haven’t gotten around to writing it up. I will soon however. One good thing about this blog – it may be boring, but at least it’s sporadic!

Seriously, it’s all written up, but apparently I forgot to actually post it. Now it’s been so long since I wrote it up, I have to go through it to make sure I actually finished it and it doesn’t have any (glaring, insurmountable) errors in it. It’ll be up soon. Ish.

In the meantime, here’s my favorite (to date) recipe for frosting. This is the original “traditional” frosting for a Red Velvet cake, but it’s suited to many other cakes (of course) as well.

No, I’m not kidding. Cream Cheese frosting came along later. RVC originally was topped with a cooked buttercream frosting like this, and that’s the one I prefer. YMMV.

Easy Buttercream Frosting

This is a quick cooked buttercream frosting with a rich taste. Don’t be fooled – tasting it right out of the bowl, it invariably seems overwhelmingly rich and buttery (even if you used Parkay instead of actual butter), but it’ll be fine – and better than fine – when it’s actually on the cake

I usually make this using Parkay margarine. It makes a very rich, very light, very fluffy frosting. The flavor is very like a rich French vanilla ice cream.

If it is too rich, try using either butter flavored Crisco or half butter/margarine and half plain shortening. Doing this will change the texture and you may need to experiment; I prefer just to stick with straight butter or margarine.

You will need

  • Small saucepan
  • Mixing bowl
  • Electric mixer OR a whisk or rotary beater an’ a whole lotta elbow grease

Ingredients

  • 2 T cornstarch or 1/4c AP Flour
  • 1 c milk
  • 1 c butter or margarine (2 sticks)
  • 1 c sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla

Instructions

  1. Whisk the cornstarch into the milk in a small saucepan.
  2. Over a low to medium heat, cook until it thickens, whisking continuously. It will set up pretty quickly.
  3. Let it cool COMPLETELY.
  4. When the cornstarch mixture is cool (it will be pretty well set and gelatinous, don’t worry that’s how it’s supposed to be), cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.
  5. Mix in the vanilla, then beat in the cooked cornstarch mixture a little at a time. Beat beat beat until it has the consistency of whipped cream. I beat it for 10 to 15 minutes with the whip in my KA mixer. I think it would be hard to overbeat it.

Puttin’ the hammer down

OR, HOW I STOPPED WORRYING AND LEARNED TO LOVE THE PALM SUGAR
once it’s been tamed, anyway

Jaggery

I used to drive myself crazy trying to grate jaggery (palm sugar).    Getting “enough” jaggery that didn’t end up with about 10% extra protein (from my knuckles) was a real adventure.

See, the problem with palm sugar and jaggery is that if you don’t get it crumbled up, it won’t dissolve as it should and whatever you are making will be the worse for it.    Big chunks of rock-hard raw-ish sugar, whatever its source (cane, beets, palm sap…) really puts the sabot in sabotage.

Then one day a few months ago, while contending once again with a recalcitrant, uncooperative block of jaggery – after about 30 years of struggling this way – something just snapped.    My inner barbarian took control.

“RRRRRRR!” gargled my inner (now outer) barbarian. “CRUSH! SMASH!”

My Hammer
MY HAMMER!

Whereupon I grabbed the nearest vaguely weapon-like cooking tool – one of those meat tenderizers that comes in every set of kitchen implements, for reasons beyond human understanding since no one ever uses them for tenderizing meat – and proceeded to smash the living breathing daylights out of those sneering blocks of rock hard palm sugar.    (They have faces – I promise you, really, they do, and they are not nice faces either, they are smirky, taunting, arrogant faces beneath that thin veneer of sugary sweetness).

The next thing I knew I had a pile of nicely crumbled bits instead of large marble-hard blocks.    And the bits – apparently in considerable terror at this point – were apt to crumble easily between my fingers.    If not (to the tune of Maxwell’s Silver Hammer) – BANG BANG MY MEAT TENDERIZER COMES DOWN ON IT’S HEAD!    (I’m convinced the Beatles’ Maxwell knew a thing or two about palm sugar).

You need to do this on a cutting board or cutting mat with a smooth, not a pebbled, surface, and you will need a table knife, metal spatula, or a dough blade to scrape the bits of sticky palm sugar up off the mat and off the surface of the meat tenderizer head. You will, of course, be using the smooth side of the head of the tenderizer as the jaggery or palm sugar will stick in between the pointy bits on the other end.

In order to catch bits of palm sugar that may go flying about loose, I take 2 or 3 flour sack cloth towels (any lintless smooth towel or cloth will do – even a pillowcase) roll them up and make a “moat” around the whacking area.    With a little care – and a firm grip on your inner barbarian – judicious use of the hammer – errr, meat tenderizer – doesn’t usually end up with a lot of scattering.    The “moat” will easily capture what there is of it.

Palm Sugar
Palm Sugar

Jaggery is supposed to be palm sugar, but often it’s adulterated with cane sugar – sometimes it’s even 100% cane sugar.    But I stuck with jaggery because I can always find it at a local Indian grocery.    However, recently I found a large Asian market not far away where I can reliably get palm sugar now – and although some of it is also partially cane sugar, the brands carried at this store at least admit that on the ingredient labels.    So now I just buy 100% palm sugar at the Asian market.

And you know what?    It TASTES better than the jaggery I used to buy.    Possibly because I’m now getting actual palm sugar instead of something that was adulterated with cane or other sugars.

The only drawback is that the palm sugar in Asian markets is every bit as prone to being hard as rocks as is jaggery.    But that’s ok – I have my hammer to help me!    Now, that jar of palm sugar in the back left above – that is supposed to be spoonable.    But just in case its not, or in case it tastes different (because of whatever is in it to keep it soft and squishy) I went ahead and got the solid sort as well.    Well, and – you know – there’s just such SATISFACTION in being able to take a hammer to something and crush it UTTERLY!    You can never have too much palm sugar, anyway.

A Lump of Palm Sugar
A lump of palm sugar – see that irritating smirk?
IT’S THERE, I TELL YOU, IT’S THERE!
Go SMASH!
Go SMASH!

 

From hard little lump to nice pile of smooshiness.    See how well that works out?

Now that I have palm sugar whipped into shape and under control, I can move on in my quest to perfect the preparation of pad thai.

Next on the chopping block:

Finding the elusive hua chai po wan, aka หัวไชโป้วหวาน, aka Thai preserved radish

Sweet Salted Preserved Radish - yes, really!
(Thank you, SheSimmers, for providing the correct name for that – and most everything else Thai-related)

I am sooo hoping this is it.    I know, the contents DO look vaguely… fleshlike.    But I’m sure the little picture on front of twin daikon is accurate.    Well, pretty sure.    Really, there’s no reason to be afraid to open it up and see what I’ve got.    Nooooo reason at all …

*takes a firmer grip on the hammer*

Roasted Onion Tofu Shirataki Noodles (Barbarian Style)

Lately I’ve been sort of grumpy and indecisive about cooking.

Why? you may ask. And well you may.

Well all the different sauces and pastes and whatnot that I’ve been accumulating for all the various and sundry dishes of Asian origin which I like to cook are taking over the kitchen. It’s to the point where I can’t even remember what I have and what I don’t have. The other day I came home with Thai style Black Soy Sauce, which I have been assiduously seeking for months now. Only to discover that I had already found and purchased a bottle of the stuff.

*grump*

Here’s a small portion of what I have to deal with:

Lotsa Sauce-as!!!

I am assured by those who claim to know that one cannot substitute one type of hot chili bean paste for another as they are totally, totally different and will ruin whatever you are making if you try. So there are 6 or 7 different types of commonly used Korean bean pastes, and a bunch more from Thailand, and some more yet from Indonesia, and then there’s a whole passel over here from China, only they’re different from this region of China than they are in that region of China, and NO YOU ABSOLUTELY MAY NOT SUBSTITUTE ANYTHING FOR ANYTHING ELSE! AAAAAARGH!

But wait – why am I striving so assiduously for authenticity? Am I not

*dramatic pause*

THE KITCHEN BARBARIAN?

Do not the cuisines of all countries tremble at my shadow? Does not the earth quake with the passing of my mighty hordes of hungry domestic warriors? Do I not bestride the culinary world like a COLOSSUS???

Well maybe not. Still, there is a time for striving towards being true to the cuisine, and a time for being true to your stomach. Today, I return to my barbarian roots, and make something up from scraps and pieces.

So. Today’s offering – sorta Thai-ish, sorta Indonesian, but not really either:

Roasted Onion Tofu Shirataki Noodles (Barbarian Style)

By Kitchen Barbarian

Published 06/27/2012

My own concoction, using whatever I have on hand, which happened tonight to be kecap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce) and some Thai red pepper paste, among other things.

Using Tofu Shirataki noodles makes this a very low calorie, low carb meal, as there are only 40 calories and no carbs in an 8 oz package of the tofu sort, and none in the plain shirataki noodles. If you prefer to substitute bean thread noodles instead, it’s still fairly low cal, and still fairly low carb – bean thread noodles are among the lowest in carbs of any noodle other than shirataki or tofu shirataki noodles.

A noodly delight!

Ingredients

  • 1 T minced galangal
  • 1 T roasted red pepper paste
  • 1 T kecap manis
  • 1 T soy sauce
  • 2 T sake
  • 1 to 2 T lime juice, to taste
  • 5 to 6 oz pressed tofu, pan-seared
  • 8 oz packet of Tofu Shirataki noodles or 4 oz bean thread noodles, soaked
  • 2 medium to large onions, quartered and roasted
  • splash of dark sesame oil

Instructions

  1. Press a block of tofu, then slice and pan-sear the slices on each side. Use about 2-3 slices, cubed, in this recipe. (I like more tofu, the amount should be to your taste – you could also substitute chicken or pork for the tofu – unless you’re a vegetarian. Then you probably shouldn’t do that.)
  2. While the tofu is being pressed, quarter your onions, peel, remove root ends, and roast in a 300F onion for about an hour; then turn the oven up to 350F and roast an additional 20 mins, until the onions have softened and begun to brown (but not burn)
  3. When the onions are done and the tofu has been seared and cubed, set aside and start on the actual stir fry.
  4. Mix together the kecap manis, soy sauce, sake, and lime juice and keep aside.
  5. Splash a T or 2 of dark sesame oil in a large skillet. Add the minced galangal and the roasted red pepper paste and stir fry over a medium to med-high heat until the galangal begins to brown.
  6. Add the cubed tofu and stir fry for 2 or 3 mins.
  7. Add the prepared tofu shirataki noodles and stir fry for another 2 or 3 minutes, giving the noodles a good chance to soak up the sauce. You may substitute soaked bean thread noodles if you do not have or do not care for tofu shirataki noodles.
  8. Add the roasted onions and stir to mix well.
  9. Garnish with cilantro and Sweet Potato Sprinkles (if you have them) and serve with a wedge of lime.

Unlike most of my recipes, this dish will only serve 1 to 2 people – 1 if it’s your whole dinner, 2 if there’s another dish to go along with it.

I was cooking off the cuff or I’d have marinated that Tofu – if you plan better than I do, marinating the tofu is a GREAT idea! I’m just too forgetful to get it done half the time.

Tofu shirataki noodles are different than any other Asian style noodle I’ve ever used – you will find them packed in water in the refrigeration section of Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and some of the larger Asian markets. Because they are packaged wet, 8 oz of noodles isn’t as much as it sounds like – I’m guessing it’s roughly the equivalent of 4 oz of most dry style noodles. So if you substitute for the tofu shirataki noodles with some type of dry noodle, remember to decrease the amount to make up for the difference in weight between wet and dry noodles.

Should you decide to give these a try, keep in mind that they are a unique type of noodle – basically they’re a noodle shaped fiber envelope filled with water. They are so high fiber that they can cause gastro-intestinal distress (to put it politely) if you overdo with them, or if you happen to be sensitive to them. Start out with a small amount. Personally I eat no more than one package (8 oz of the wet noodles) with stir fry, once a day, about 5 times a week. I’m good with that. However, there have been reports of ummmm, let’s say a “sudden return of ingredients” when people have thought they could eat gobs of these because they are (literally, for plain shirataki noodles, and virtually for the sort with tofu in them) no calorie.

Well you can’t. It is an ungood thing to try. So don’t do that. K? We’re barbarians, but never quite the barbarians the Romans were!

Tags: tofu shirataki noodles, stir fry, Thai, Indonesian, low calorie, low carb, kecap manis, vegetarian

Serendipity, Meet Sweet Potato!

First, let me apologize for the poor quality pictures – my poor little Pentax E60 is apparently going KAPLOOEY! Hopefully I can eventually replace it and have some better pictures, but for now, this is the best I can do.

So these were kind of a serendipitous discovery. I was actually aiming to make some sweet potato fries, but it turns out that the grater attachment on my Super Salad Shooter makes teensy little pieces instead of big long beautiful thin strands.

Who’da thunk!

Nevertheless, adopt, adapt, and improve (motto of the round table). (Monty Python has GREATLY expanded my classical education!)

So instead of a deep fried treat, I ended up with these and I have to say they are MUCH yummier than you would think. Or at least they’re yummier than *I* thought they would be. Straight out of the oven, they are crunchy, a little bit sweet in a yammy-kind of way (using yam incorrectly as a synonym for “sweet potato”), and just a hint of salt. You CAN add a bit of salt to these if you want to – it’s in the recipe – but I really don’t think it’s necessary. It doesn’t really stick well anyway.

They’re also way WAY better for you than the deep fried version I was originally headed for.

You want thin shreds – for this purpose it doesn’t matter so much how LONG they are as long as they’re thin. A medium grater will do the trick, you could use a grater blade in a food processor (or the Salad Shooter as I did), or you could get a Kiwi Pro Slicer/Peeler which makes long, thin, lovely strands – also suitable, by the way, for thin sweet potato fries or garnish for an Asian style noodle dish.

Sprinkle these on salads or noodles as a garnish for added color, a change of pace, flavor-wise, and a bit of crunch. Or eat them as-is as a surprisingly delicious snack!

Crunchy Sweet Potato Sprinkles

By Kitchen Barbarian

Published 06/20/2012

Crunchy Sweet Potato Sprinkles

Crunchy sweet potato sprinkles make a delicious topping for stir-fry noodles or salads. They’re also good as a crunchy snack!

There is 438 g of potassium in an average size (about 4.5 to 5 oz) sweet potato. Ounce for ounce, a sweet potato has 50% more potassium than the most often recommended source of potassium, the banana.

You will need:

  • A cookie sheet or jelly roll pan
  • Grater, food processor, or hand-held shredder
  • Foil or Teflon pan liner

Ingredients

  • Sweet potato, one medium, about 4.5 to 5 oz

Instructions

  1. Peel and shred the sweet potato. I used my Super Salad Shooter, or you could use a regular box grater, food processor, or a Kiwi Pro Slicer/Peeler
  2. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil – the nonstick sort will work best – or use a Teflon parchment sheet such as Pan Pal or Super Parchment
  3. Spread the sweet potato shreds evenly across the pan
  4. Bake in a very low oven – 150F – for 2 to 3 hours, stirring around occasionally, until the shreds have turned dry and crunchy.
  5. Let cool, then store in an airtight container. Sprinkle with a small amount of salt if desired.
  6. Will keep for at least two weeks or more – but they probably won’t last that long!

Nutrition

  • Calories: 112
  • Total carbs: 26.2 grams
  • Dietary fiber: 3.9 grams
  • Protein: 2 grams
  • Fat: 0
  • Sodium: 72 grams

Tags: Vegetarian, sweet potato, salad, noodles, topping, garnish, snack, low calorie, potassium

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