Life hack: Think salmon's boring? This stuff actually makes it exciting

Add a bright zing to your dishes with tamarind paste

Tamarind, a fruit pod native to Asia and northern Africa, is a perfect ingredient when you want to add zing to a dish. Like this recipe for salmon skewers with tamarind sauce, adapted from a recipe by chef Marcus Samuelsson.

The flavor is magical, but tamarind can come across as a difficult ingredient if you've never used it before. While seedless pulp is available at many markets, it's commonly found packaged in blocks — the pulp (or paste) is often packed with bits of seed and solids, which need to be strained before the pulp can be used.

To do this, take a block of tamarind, place it in a large bowl and soak it in about 2 cups of really hot water. Set it aside for about 15 to 20 minutes, until the block is softened and the water is cool enough to handle. Work the block with your fingers, breaking up and massaging the pulp to dislodge the solids. Run the pulp through a strainer, discard the solids, then cover and refrigerate the pulp until needed. This makes a generous cup of seedless pulp (amounts can vary by brand and amount of solids packed with the block), which should keep for a good week in the refrigerator.

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You can increase or decrease the amount of water for soaking depending on how strong you want the finished product.

Depending on the recipe, you might also want to make liquid tamarind. We ran a recipe, along with a great story on the many uses for tamarind, a few years ago.

SALMON SKEWERS WITH TAMARIND SAUCE

Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes | Serves 6 to 8

Note: Adapted from "The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa" by Marcus Samuelsson. See the accompanying recipe for tamarind liquid. Or you can use canned "fresh tamarind concentrate" (use the same amount as of tamarind liquid).

    1/2 cup peanut oil
    2 pounds salmon fillet, cut into 2-inch cubes
    1/4 cup olive oil
    1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
    1 garlic clove, minced
    1 tablespoon curry powder
    1 cup white wine vinegar
    1/4 cup dry red wine
    1 tablespoon cornstarch
    2 tablespoons tamarind liquid (see related recipe)
    2 teaspoons sugar
    1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Pour the peanut oil into a medium bowl. Add the salmon and turn to coat. Set fish aside for 30 minutes.

2. Soak 16 bamboo skewers in water for at least 30 minutes. Prepare a medium-hot grill fire.

3. While the salmon is marinating in the peanut oil, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and saute until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the curry powder, vinegar, red wine, cornstarch, tamarind and sugar. Bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 5 minutes, or until the sauce thickens slightly. Remove the sauce from the heat and let it cool slightly.

4. Transfer the sauce to a blender and puree until smooth; this makes 2 cups. Place 1 cup in a small serving bowl and set aside. Reserve the remaining sauce for basting the salmon.

5. Sprinkle the salmon with the salt and thread it onto skewers. Arrange the skewers on the grill and cook for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or just until cooked through, brushing frequently with the tamarind sauce.

6. Serve with the bowl of reserved sauce.

Each serving: 334 calories; 23 grams protein; 7 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 23 grams fat; 4 grams saturated fat; 67 mg. cholesterol; 214 mg. sodium.

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