Each time I feel peckish during the day, especially in the evening, I head to the fridge in the hopes of finding something ready to eat. But that isn’t always the case. However, if there is leftover rice, I am in luck and know what to do. Make a quick tadka and spice them up with one of my favorite ingredients – tamarind. Tamarind rice is easy to make with only a few pantry staples, as long as there is either tamarind paste or some pulp at hand.
Imli aka Tamarind – An Umami Rich Ingredient
Known as “Imli” in Hindi, tamarind fruit from a tree of the same name has an exceedingly tangy pulp. Tamarind fruit is a long, bean like pod with a hard outer shell that peels off easily to reveal a supple flesh. While the tree itself originated on the African continent, these draught tolerant trees grow across the Indian subcontinent, flourishing in arid regions. A tamarind tree in my parent’s home in Hyderabad used to fruit so profusely each summer that they had more than enough for themselves and everyone working in their household. Even after a harvest there were always pods on the tallest branches that would eventually ripen and fall covering the ground beneath the tree’s vast canopy. The use of tamarind is so common in cuisines across India that most assume it to be an indigenous species.
Africa to India with an Arabian Name
As a child I have a distinct memory of playing under a vast tamarind tree and picking fallen fruit from the ground. Like other fruits with thick skins, such as banana, you can dust off a tamarind pod, peel it and eat the pulp right away! The first bite is a jolt of surprisingly strong sourness that shocks the tastebuds. Tamarind – a name bestowed on the fruit by the Arabs who called it “Tamar -i- Hind” or the date fruit of India, imparts a strong Umami-like flavor. The overarching taste of tamarind pulp is sourness but a good imli, specially fresh fruit, is also sweet while being tart. For the longest time Indian cooking has used imli (tamarind), amchoor (unripe mango powder) and anardana powder (dried pomegranate powder) as souring ingredients. Tomato, now a common ingredient rich in umami, is relatively new having arrived with the Portuguese in the 1500s. Imli is used in varied forms, this imli chutney is one such versatile recipe.
Taste memory – first tryst with Tamarind Rice
This post is killing it on the memories per word quotient! Here’s another one, in fact a crucial one about my first memory of a spicy tamarind masala used to make this very dish. I remember a neighbor in Jodhpur who hailed from the southern Indian city of Bangalore once shared a bottle of her homemade ready to use, spiced tamarind paste with my mother. I am guessing that paste was a homemade Pulihora / Puliyogare / Puliyodarai as it is variously called. Back then the term Puliyogare wasn’t part of my vocabulary. But now that I have been using packaged puliyogare mixes in my own cooking that homemade gift has attained a special status. There is nothing more personal and loving than the gift of food. Wouldn’t you agree?
Let’s get to the recipe for Tamarind Rice – a childhood favorite, enjoyed with fervor!
For this version I am using leftover rice. You could just as easily make it with freshly cooked rice. If using fresh rice – cook rice as you normally would and then proceed with mixing in the tamarind paste and spices.
Total Time: 30 minutes
Prep: 10 minutes, Cooking: 15 – 20 minutes
- Leftover rice ~ 1 cup
- Tamarind paste – 2 tbsp or soaked in warm water or Tamarind paste
- Oil – 3 tbsp (any mild flavored cooking oil; I used canola)
- Onion – half a large onion, or 1 medium
- Peanuts – 1/2 cup
- Rai/ mustard seeds – 1/2 to 1 tsp
- Jeera / cumin seeds – 1/2 tsp (optional)
- Curry leaves – 10 to 12 (fresh or dry)
- Turmeric – 1/2 tsp
- Salt to taste
- Red chilli powder – 1/2 tsp (adjust to taste)
- Coriander powder – 1/2 tsp
- Sugar – 1/2 to 1 tsp
- Black Pepper – 2 to 3 cracks (add to taste)
- Water – as needed
Recommendation: Plain Yogurt to serve alongside.
Method: Prepare Tamarind Rice with leftover rice
Start by collecting all the ingredients and then cleaning and chopping onion. I used half a red onion. Usually, red onions tend to be on the larger side. So, for a recipe like this half is enough. Chop it into medium sized cubes; you can go smaller if you prefer that.
Next, put a kadhai/wok on the stove on medium high heat. Once warm – you can assess this by hovering your hand a couple of inches above the bottom of the wok (don’t touch it!) – add oil to it. Followed by peanuts. I prefer using red, uncooked peanuts. If you do not want to go through the process of frying peanuts, just use toasted peanuts. But I do prefer and recommend frying your own! Keep fried peanuts on a paper towel lined plate to drain excess oil.
Make the tadka
In the same kadhai, add more oil if needed and begin making the tadka. Heat the oil on medium high and then add rai (mustard), jeera (cumin) and kari patta (curry leaves). Jeera is optional. When the seeds are spluttering and curry leaves fragrant add the chopped onion. Sauté until translucent and just beginning to brown. Keep the kadhai on low heat to avoid burning the onions. You could cover the kadhai / pan and leave it on low heat while you prepare the tamarind paste.
Spice up the tamarind paste
While the onions soften and gently sauté on low heat, mix spices in tamarind paste. I used bottle tamarind paste instead of soaking tamarind pieces to extract pulp. If you have packed tamarind, pull apart a fistful and soak in lukewarm water (using enough to cover completely) for about an hour. Then with your hands squeeze out as much of the pulp as you can. Remove the seeds and any wiry strings as well as the inner skin that might peel away. Add dry spices, salt and sugar to the tamarind and mix well. Add additional water to the paste if needed. See images above for reference.
Add leftover rice to the pan/wok
When the onions look done, add rice to the pan and gently try to coax it apart. Refrigerated rice clumps together. Use the back of your spatula or spoon to press down and loosen rice grains apart. Then add the tamarind paste and water, pouring it in the center. Mix in well until all the rice has been evenly coated. If needed, add a tablespoon of water and then cover and turn down the heat to the lowest possible on your stove. This will help steam the rice and hydrate them for plumper grains. Crack some pepper on it before serving.
Top with peanuts and serve!
I like the crunch of fried peanuts and top my tamarind with them before serving and digging in. Alternatively, you could mix in all the fried peanuts from earlier. I enjoy my bowl with a dollop of chilled plain yogurt and a cup of coffee!
Tamarind Rice – Use That Leftover Rice!
- Kadhai or wok
- 1 cup Rice Leftover or freshly cooked
- 2 tbsp Tamarind Paste Or fresh paste squeezed from soaked tamarind
- 3 tbsp Cooking oil
- 1/2 Red onion chopped
- 1/2 cup Peanuts Uncooked
- 1/2 to 1 tsp Rai / mustard seeds
- 1/2 tsp Jeera / Cumin seeds
- 10 – 12 Curry Leaves
- 1/2 tsp Turmeric powder
- Salt to taste
- 1/2 tsp Red chilli powder
- 1/2 tsp Coriander powder
- 1/2 to 1 tsp Sugar
- 3 to 4 cracks Black pepper
- Water as needed
- Clean and dice a red onion – half if its large or use one medium sized onion.
- Put a kadhai/wok on the stove on medium high heat and add oil to it when warm. Followed by peanuts. Fry them until deep brown but not burnt. Keep fried peanuts on a paper towel lined plate to drain excess oil.
- In the same kadhai, add more oil if needed and begin making the tempering. Heat oil on medium high and then add rai (mustard), jeera (cumin) and kari patta (curry leaves). When the seeds are spluttering and curry leaves fragrant add the chopped onion. Sauté until translucent and just beginning to brown. You could cover the kadhai / pan and leave it on low heat while you prepare the tamarind paste.
- While the onions soften and gently sauté on low heat, mix spices in tamarind paste. Add dry spices, salt and sugar to the tamarind and mix well. Add additional water to the paste if neede to combine well.
- When the onions look done, add rice to the pan and gently try to coax it apart. Use the back of your spatula or spoon to press down and loosen rice grains apart.
- Add the tamarind paste and water in to the rice. Mix in well until all the rice has been evenly coated. Add a tablespoon of water at a time if needed.Turn down the heat to the lowest possible on your stove and let it steam until serving. Crack some pepper over it before serving.
- Top each serving of tamarind rice with peanuts fried before or mix in all the fried peanuts into the cooked rice. Serve with chilled plain yogurt.