Here’s what you can cook with tender tamarind leaves

Sour, tart and delicious, the leaves are here for only a few more weeks, so don’t forget to grab a bunch

Updated - April 27, 2018 04:16 pm IST

Published - April 27, 2018 02:37 pm IST

VIJAYAWADA , 19/06/2012: After the blazing summer temperatures and scathing winds the first rains bring forth the tender tamarind leaves that are a popular ingredient for preparing curries in Vijayawada.  
Photo: V. Raju

VIJAYAWADA , 19/06/2012: After the blazing summer temperatures and scathing winds the first rains bring forth the tender tamarind leaves that are a popular ingredient for preparing curries in Vijayawada. Photo: V. Raju

Year after year, I spot tender leaves of tamarind being sold on vegetable carts in markets. But never did I bother to enquire about its use in day-to-day cooking, because, for me, it clearly didn’t fit the leafy vegetables category.

The delicate reddish-green leaves make for a good photo, though. So I posted one on Instagram. “It tastes amazing when cooked with mutton. Have you not tried it?” commented my neighbour. I hadn’t, so I turned to my encyclopaedia on local ‘anything’ aka my domestic help, “You didn’t tell me tamarind leaves are eaten?”

I took a fistful, ran it under the tap to get rid of dust and popped a few in my mouth. The raw leaves were sour and tart with the presence of Vitamin C and tartaric acid. They are also high in fibre content, potassium, iron and calcium. Ayurvedic food practitioners recommend them in specific doses every now and then. Apart from the obvious tanginess, I felt a chalky aftertaste in my mouth.

Tender tamarind leaves are available only during spring. They can be dried and powdered, and thus used all year as a souring agent for dals and curries.

How does one identify tender leaves? They are a tenuous light green to slightly pink in colour. With their unique flavour, they make for an amazing garnish on both raw and cooked salads. They are also known to be used in soups. Food writers often discuss the use of tamarind leaves in seafood dishes to add an extra zing.

In South Indian cuisine, many dishes are incomplete without tamarind. The ubiquitous pulp is replaced with leaves in many homes in spring. Instant chutneys are a speciality, and meals with tamarind leaves tend to feel celebratory since the ingredient is seasonal, hence exotic.

Why tamarind leaves? “It is good for digestion; they also act as laxatives,” says home chef Prabhavati, before rattling off a list of additional benefits.

Quick tip: Mildly sauté, cook the leaves and mash them to a paste before adding it to your choice of meat. Otherwise the leaves, though tender, leave a mild ‘sediment-ish’ feel in the mouth.

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