To unlock the sour power of fresh tamarind, the pods or pulp must first be made into tamarind water. This tangy essence of tamarind is made by steeping fibrous tamarind flesh in boiling water, and then straining it. An equal quantity of high-quality tamarind concentrate, like Tamicon, thinned with water may also be used in these recipes, but it will lack the bright and delicate quality of from-scratch tamarind water. For recipes using tamarind water, go here.
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Tamarinds
Credit: Photo by Greg DuPree / Food Styling by Melissa Grey / Prop Styling by Lydia Pursell

Tamarind Water from Whole Pods

Active 15 min; Total 1 hr 15 min; Makes about 1/2 cup

7 ounces fresh whole sour tamarind pods (about 12 pods)

3/4 cup boiling water

1. Sort through tamarind pods. Remove and discard any pods that are cracked or open or show traces of mold.

2. Using your hands, firmly press on tamarind pods to crack shells. Remove shell and veins; discard. Place tamarind pulp with seeds in a large heatproof bowl, and add 3/4 cup boiling water. Let stand 1 hour.

3. Pour mixture through a fine wire-mesh strainer set over a clean bowl. Using a spatula, push out as much liquid as possible, working any remaining pulp with spatula to continue to break it down, 3 to 4 minutes. Using a spoon, scrape off any tamarind paste from underside of strainer, and add to mixture in bowl. Discard remaining solids in strainer.

Make Ahead: Tamarind water may be stored in an airtight container in refrigerator up to 1 week or frozen in ice cube trays up to 2 months.

Tamarind Water from Pulp

Active 5 min; Total 25 min; Makes about 1/2 cup

3/4 cup boiling water 

2 1/4 ounces wet seedless tamarind block (about 3 tablespoons), torn into about 1-inch pieces

1. Stir together 3/4 cup boiling water and tamarind pieces in a medium-size heatproof bowl. Using a fork, mash tamarind to dissolve pieces as much as possible. Stir well. Let stand 20 minutes.

2. Pour tamarind mixture through a fine wire-mesh strainer over a medium bowl. Using a spatula, push out as much liquid as possible, working any remaining pulp with spatula to continue to break it down,

1 to 2 minutes. Scrape pulp from underside of strainer, and add to mixture in bowl. Discard remaining solids in strainer. 

Make Ahead: Tamarind water may be stored in an airtight container in refrigerator up to 1 week or frozen in ice cube trays up to 2 months.

Note: Tear leftover tamarind block into 1-inch pieces, and freeze in a ziplock plastic bag up to 2 months.