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Sweet-Tart Tamarind-Cilantro Shrimp

Tamarind remains a bit of a mystery to most cooks in the United States, but its sweet and sour pulp is appreciated by cooks from its native range in tropical Africa to India, Mexico, and beyond. The pods resemble a long, bulbous peanut, but the flavor evokes some combination of lemons, dates, and apricots – making it a powerhouse ingredient packed with flavor.

We loved how its sweet acidity brightened a Persian seafood stew called galieh mahi, which often comes loaded with handfuls of cilantro, onion, fenugreek, turmeric, chili pepper, and more. White fish often is poached in the vibrant sauce, absorbing the herbal flavors.

In this recipe from our book “Milk Street Tuesday Nights,” which limits recipes to 45 minutes or less, we pared down the ingredient list to let the turmeric and cilantro stand out. They both complement the natural sweetness of easy-to-cook shrimp, which we sear on only one side; allowing the shrimp to finish cooking in the gentler residual heat of the sauce prevents them from overcooking. For savory depth to balance the brightness, we also stir in a good measure of tomato paste.

Tamarind paste is available in Asian markets, sold in dense blocks packed in plastic. It should be soft and pliable, not hard and brittle.

Shrimp with tamarind and cilantro

Start to finish: 40 minutes

Servings: 4


3 tablespoons tamarind paste
2½ cups water
2 tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral oil
1½ pounds extra-large shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails removed and patted dry
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons salted butter
1 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems, divided
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons ground coriander
¾ teaspoon ground turmeric


In a 2-cup glass measuring cup or small microwave-safe bowl, combine the tamarind paste and ½ cup of water. Microwave on high until warm, about 1 minute, then whisk to combine. Let stand for 10 minutes, then pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl and press on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible; discard the solids. You should have about ⅓ cup of strained tamarind.

In a large Dutch oven over medium-high, heat the oil until smoking. Add half the shrimp in an even layer and cook without stirring until lightly golden on the bottom, about 45 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate. Repeat with the remaining shrimp; set aside.

In the same pot over medium-low, add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened and lightly golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in 2 teaspoons salt and the butter, then add ½ cup of the cilantro. Cook, stirring frequently, until the cilantro has darkened and the onion is deep golden brown, 5 to 6 minutes.

Add the tamarind and tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, until slightly darkened, about 1 minute. Stir in the coriander, turmeric, ¾ teaspoon pepper, and 2 cups water. Bring to a simmer over medium and cook, stirring, until the sauce has slightly thickened and the flavors have melded, about 10 minutes.

Add the shrimp and stir to coat with the sauce. Cook, stirring, until the shrimp are opaque throughout, 1 to 2 minutes. Off-heat, stir in ¼ cup of the remaining cilantro, then taste and season with salt. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with a few tablespoons of the remaining cilantro or more as desired.

Get more recipes and dinner ideas from The Washington Times food section.

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