While tamarind is a common ingredient in jellies and jams, it's also a key component of Worcestershire sauce, and its sour intensity makes it popular in Asian curries and chutneys.
The partially dried, compressed blocks of tamarind sold at Chinese and Indian grocers should be softened in hot water for 15 minutes, then strained, before adding either the juice or pulp to a recipe. They're rare, but you can actually buy fresh tamarind pods at Tai Kong, 310 Spadina, 416-581-0129.
The following vegetarian dish -- Black-Eyed Peas in Ginger and Tamarind Sauce -- makes a great main course or side.
Rinse and soak 1 cup dried black-eyed peas in 4 cups of cold water in a saucepan for 3 hours. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and add 1 teaspoon grated ginger, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder and 1/4 teaspoon turmeric. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pan and simmer slowly for 45 minutes. Add another teaspoon grated ginger, 2 chopped hot chilies, 1 tablespoon tamarind pulp, mix well and simmer another 15 minutes. Meanwhile, slowly dry-fry a large sliced onion in a skillet until it gradually caramelizes, turning golden brown. Add 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds and 5 minced garlic cloves to the skillet, and a little water if necessary to prevent burning. Remove from heat just when garlic darkens. Pour this into the beans, add 1/4 teaspoon garam masala, mix well and cook 10 minutes more. Garnish with a handful of chopped fresh coriander leaves.SD