My family call this sauce imli (tamarind) chutney. The word chutney comes from the Hindi chaatni which describes a tangy condiment that makes you lick your lips at it’s flavour! Although the verb chaatna means to lick I think lipsmacking is the most appropriate translation in this case!
I refer to it as a ketchup or sauce because I’ve found that most people in the UK think of chutneys as condiments with chunks of fruit and vegetables in them rather than smooth sauces like this one.
Traditionally, it is used in chaat dishes – snacks which again make you want to lick your lips (and your fingers) clean of every last morsel! They are often sold as street food – though many families enjoy them at home too – and are usually hot, spicy, tangy and with a contrasting mix of textures.
The chaat dishes I’m most familiar with usually include a dough-based element such as gole-gappa (crisp puffed-up fried breads) or maybe something like vadas (lentil dumplings) plus natural yoghurt, tamarind chutney (or ketchup, as I’m calling it), a combination of spices and herbs and perhaps also some boiled potatoes, chickpeas, salad items and green mango coriander chutney. I like for there to be something crunchy in the mix against the softer potatos and chickpeas, myself.
Oh and my parents also like an accompaniment called jal-jeera (fire-water) which I reckon is an acquired taste and one I’ll never acquire!
Recipes for all these dishes can be found on our family recipe website, Mamta’s Kitchen. (Mamta is my mum).
But the sweet sour spicy flavour of tamarind ketchup should not be restricted to such a small niche – I also like it as an alternative to regular tomato ketchup with anything from burgers and chops to chicken fritters and if you mix it with yoghurt it makes a lovely dip!
Mamta’s Kitchen Tamarind Ketchup
400 gram packet of dry tamarind pulp, with stones/skins intact
Approximately 1 litre hot water
1 teaspoon cooking oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
A large pinch of asafoetida powder
6-7 teaspoons salt. *
100 grams jaggery or brown sugar or muscovado sugar *
1 teaspoon chilli powder *
2 teaspoons roasted cumin powder
1-2 teaspoons garam masala
*The quantity of these ingredients should be adjusted during cooking, according to taste. The tarter the tamarind, the more salt and sugar it will need.
- Break the tamarind block up as best you can and soak in hot water for an hour or longer. This will soften up the dry tamarind. It should be squishy.
- Massage the pulp to help separate seeds and skins. I follow my mum’s advice to wear rubber gloves as tamarind is quite acidic.
- Mash and squeeze the pulp to release a thick liquid of the flesh and water. Mum usually uses a colander or sieve to squeeze the pulp against for this step however the most recent time I made the ketchup, I was at a friends and found her steaming set a great help – a large pan with small colander-sized holes in the base that fits snugly on top of a large saucepan – much more stable than mashing into a colander or sieve balanced in a pan or bowl!
- Depending on how well you’ve extracted flesh from the seeds and skins, you might want to re-soak the remnants in a smaller volume of hot water and make a second pass of mashing and squeezing. I do usually do this.
- You should end up with a large quantity of thick liquid.
- If you used a colander for the previous step, you may wish to strain the liquid through a sieve to get rid of any remaining lumps of skin or seed but if the liquid looks smooth and lump-free, don’t bother.
- Discard the seeds, skins etc.
- In a large pan heat the oil.
- Add the cumin seeds and asafoetida powder. When the seeds splutter, pour in the tamarind liquid and all the other ingredients except the garam masala.
- Allow it to boil briskly, stirring from time to time.
- Taste and adjust salt, jaggery/sugar and chillies to reach your preferred balance of sweetness, acidity and heat.
- If the liquid is too thin continue to heat to reduce volume and thicken up. Note, this ketchup is not intended to be really thick and gloopy but of a pouring consistency.
- Add garam masala and stir in.
- Take off the heat and allow to cool.
- Pour into sterilised, airtight bottles or jam jars.
The ketchup will last well in the fridge for a few months. Jars can also be kept in a freezer, indefinitely.