As part of my continued “culinary homeschooling,” as I like to think of it, I have been trying to understand how acids work in cooking. I wrote a bit about citrus, vinegar and wine before, but since then I have learned a lot and begun experimenting much more.
Part of that included learning more about tamarind, the sour fruit often used in Indian cooking. Michael and I used it in a coconut shrimp curry we cooked for the University Iron Chef competition. Tamarind is very sour, and when combined with the right amount of sugar and savory ingredients, offers such a unique acidity to dishes.
One night I tried using it in lieu of vinegar or citrus to make a dressing for cole slaw. We were having an Indian-inspired meal, so I combined it with cumin and cilantro, which I knew were used in many other Indian dishes. The last few times I’ve made the dressing, I’ve added lime or white wine vinegar as well, but I think the first time was all tamarind pulp. For whatever reason, there were also sesame seeds in the cole slaw the first time I made it (as you might notice in the first picture.) Now I just leave the cumin seeds whole for texture and flavor.
I make variations of slaw a lot more often than I make leafy salads these days. Cabbage is so much cheaper and lasts a lot longer than lettuce, so for a recent college grad without a car to get to the store often, cole slaw is often my side dish of choice. When I can’t be bothered doing anything else, I toss shredded cabbage with bottled poppy seed dressing. It has just the right amount of sweetness and I prefer it to mayonnaise.
If you have a few minutes more, try the tamarind vinaigrette. It’s nice on other things too. I’ve put a similar vinaigrette on thinly sliced jicama after seeing it here.
Carrot and Cabbage Slaw with Tamarind Vinaigrette
- 2 cups shredded cabbage
- 1 cup shredded carrot
- 1 teaspoon tamarind paste
- 2-3 teaspoons water
- 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar (lime juice is also good)
- 1 teaspoon cumin seed
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 3 teaspoons olive oil (This is what I always have around, but another oil might be better. Let me know what you try.)
- small handful of fresh cilantro (I used to only use the leaves, but now I sometimes only use the stems depending on what I have. The stems are stronger in flavor than the leaves so you need less for the same impact. Chop the stems very finely.)
Slice or shred the cabbage and carrots and set aside in a large bowl.
In a smaller bowl, whisk tamarind paste and water. You want a concentrated sour liquid, as if you had squeezed a lemon or lime. Mix with a teaspoon of white wine vinegar, or lime juice works too for a slight flavor variation. (Go with whatever you have on hand.)
Toast the cumin seeds quickly over medium high heat. When they get fragrant, take them off the stove and add to the tamarind mixture. Add honey, chopped cilantro and oil, then whisk till combined. Give it a few pinches/shakes of salt as necessary.
The result is a sweet and sour dressing with big flavors when you get to a bite of cumin seed or cilantro.
Toss it with the shredded cabbage and carrots. You might not use all of it. You decide.