This sweet-sour chutney is more like a sauce, and there are many regional variations. The base is tamarind, a very sour pod 3 to 4 inches (7.5 to 10 cm) long. The tamarind tree grows in many parts of India and also in Mexico. For this sauce, use the compressed slab-like tamarind available in Asian stores, not the “instant” kind. The fresh pods available in grocery stores are not suitable for this recipe.
Yield: Makes 1½ cups (375 ml)
1 cup (250 ml) tamarind water (see Notes)
¾ cup (175 ml) chopped dates or ½ cup (125 ml) jaggery (sugur)
1 tsp (5 ml) cayenne pepper
½ tsp (2 ml) cumin powder
½ tsp (2 ml) salt or to taste
1. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine tamarind water and dates. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until mixture begins to thicken, 5 to 8 minutes. After mixture has thickened, mash with a spoon.
2. Add cayenne pepper, cumin, salt and ¾ cup (175 ml) water. Simmer for 5 minutes to allow flavors to blend.
3. Press through large-holed strainer to make a thick, smooth sauce-like chutney. Let cool to room temperature and serve as a dipping sauce with appetizers. (Chutney can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for several months. Do not freeze.)
To make tamarind water: Cut 1-inch (2.5 cm) strip from tamarind slab, about 2 oz (60 g). Break into smaller pieces and soak in 1¼ cups (300 ml) hot water for 30 minutes. Soften between fingers to make a pulp. Strain through large-holed strainer into bowl, pushing with back of spoon to extract as much pulp as possible. Discard rest.