I still haven’t met anyone that doesn’t love tamarind rice when they first taste it. This is a typical South Indian dish and I’m so excited to share my grandmother’s recipe for it. My mother said that she searched and searched and she finally found it for me. I’m so happy she did because my grandmother was an excellent cook and preserving her recipes are very important to me.
This a photo of my late grandmother and grandfather in front of their home in Bangalore. This is the house where my mother grew up in with her brothers, sisters and extended family and also where my grandmother cooked countless meals for everyone. She was a very sweet and loving woman.
I recently served her rice for a 3rd Ward Wind-Up Event with some cucumber yogurt raita. Tamarind rice has a distinct flavor, which is spicy and tangy all at once, kind of addictive. This rice in Kannada, my mother’s language, is referred to as kari huliyanna, kari meaning black and huliyanna meaning sour rice. It’s also popularly referred to as puliyogare in Tamil, another South Indian language.
My grandmother’s recipe is made with roasted spices, tamarind pulp and seasoned with roasted sesame powder and fried peanuts. If there was ever a time to learn how to extract tamarind pulp, this is it. Fresh pulp adds to the flavor of the rice, but in a quick fix use tamarind paste. This recipe may seem daunting due to ingredients and process, but there are a couple ways to save time if you plan on making it often. For instance, you can make the flavored tamarind paste in bulk and refrigerate it for future use. I usually make the powder in bulk and extract the tamarind fresh, but you can choose which method suits you and your schedule.
Tamarind rice is usually prepared with fried peanuts and I like to serve it with a yogurt raita. It’s also a perfect picnic food. Of course if you don’t have the time to prepare the tamarind rice powder/paste from scratch, there are a number of varieties that are ready made and available at the Indian store. MTR makes a good one. I say this because I think everyone should try it, no matter how you get your hands on it – you will not be sorry!
1 cup basmati rice – can sub in jasmine rice
1/8 teaspoon turmeric powder
¼ cup dried tamarind or 2 teaspoons tamarind paste
1 ½ tablespoons untoasted sesame seeds
3 tablespoons Indian sesame oil or peanut oil, divided
1/4 cup raw peanuts, preferably with skin – can sub in roasted, unsalted peanuts
½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon chana dal (split desi chickpea)
1 dried red chili pepper, broken in half
1 sprig of curry leaves
1 heaping tablespoon granulated jaggery or brown sugar
½-3/4 teaspoon salt to taste
Tamarind Rice Powder **
Indian sesame or peanut oil for frying spices
1/8 teaspoon asafetida (hing) powder
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
2-4 dried red chili peppers, depending on heat tolerance
4 curry leaves
*To save time, you can cook the rice a day ahead and store it in the fridge.
**You can multiply this quantity to make the powder in bulk if you plan on making the recipe more frequently.
Prepare basmati rice with turmeric powder according to your own method. Spread cooked rice on a sheet pan to completely cool.
If making your own tamarind paste, submerge dried tamarind in 3/4 cup of boiling water for 30 minutes or place tamarind and cold water in the microwave for 1 minute. Loosen up the tamarind with your hand. Place fine-meshed colander on top of a bowl, pour tamarind and water over sieve so soaking water is in bowl and tamarind is in sieve. With a spoon or your hand, press the tamarind pulp through the mesh of the colander into the bowl with the rest of its soaking water. Periodically scrape tamarind pulp from the bottom of colander into the bowl. The stems and seeds should be leftover in colander.
Heat a small cast iron frying pan or heavy pan on a medium-low flame. When warm, add sesame seeds. Roast them until fragrant and golden brown, a couple minutes. Set aside on a plate to cool. When completely cooled, grind in a spice or coffee grinder.
In the pan, add a few drops of oil. Turn the heat to medium-low and fry tamarind powder ingredients in the following order until fragrant, a few seconds: asafetida, black peppercorns, black mustard seeds, cumin seeds and fenugreek seeds. Transfer to a plate to cool (separate from sesame seeds).
In the same pan, add a few drops of oil. Toast coriander seeds until fragrant and then add the chilies and fry until you feel a tickle in your nose. Transfer to plate to cool with tamarind rice powder ingredients. Add curry leaves to the pan and roast until they start to dry up. Transfer them to plate to cool with other tamarind rice powder ingredients.
When all tamarind rice powder ingredients are cooled, grind in a spice or coffee grinder.
In a wok or large frying pan, heat 1 teaspoon of oil under medium heat. Add peanuts to the wok, stirring around until peanuts are fragrant and turn golden brown, a few minutes. Set peanuts aside to cool in a bowl lined with paper towel.
Coat the bottom of the wok with 2 tablespoons of oil and heat to medium. When oil is hot and shimmering, add in one black mustard seed. When the seed sizzles and pops, add in the rest of the mustard seeds and asafetida. Keep a lid handy to cover the pan when the mustard seeds are popping. When the popping starts to subside (few seconds), immediately add in chana dal. Stir to coat with oil and reduce the heat to medium-low. Continue to stir dals so they evenly roast and until they turn a reddish golden-brown color and smell nutty. Rub curry leaves between your fingers a little to release their natural oils and drop them and dried red chili pepper into the oil. Cover immediately as moisture from curry leaves will cause the oil to spurt. Then stir to evenly coat everything with oil for a few seconds.
Next add in tamarind pulp and soaking water. Turn the heat to medium. If you are using tamarind paste, add a couple tablespoons of water to the wok as well. Boil the mixture, add jaggery or brown sugar and mix until dissolved. Add salt and boil until you get to a thick paste and the raw smell of tamarind is no longer, 2-4 minutes. Add in the roasted spice powder and 2 teaspoons of oil and mix well. Turn of the heat.
Transfer rice to a serving bowl. Once cooled, start adding the cooked tamarind paste to the rice, a spoon at a time, mixing it with your hand gently. Per your taste, mix in as much of the paste as you like (I love tamarind so I usually add it all)***. Mix in the ground sesame seed powder and fried peanuts. Taste the rice; it should be sour, spicy and a touch sweet. Add paste, jaggery and salt accordingly. Let the flavors soak into the rice for about a half hour before serving.
Serve plain or with yogurt raita.
***If there is any tamarind paste left, you can store it in the fridge for a couple of weeks.