As a frozen bag of chipotle chiles in adobo (just empty out the can into a Ziploc) is to Mexican cooking, a frozen bag of tamarind paste is to Thai cooking: indispensable. It’s extremely versatile (you can use tamarind in place of lime juice) and you can always be sure you have some on hand. Tamarind paste can be found in brick form in pretty much any Asian market, and frozen, it lasts pretty much forever. I’ve probably had the same block in my freezer for almost two years, and I’m just now getting to the last little chunk. It’s great for any kind of curry or pad Thai, desserts, and thrown-together weeknight dishes like this one that could benefit from a little sweet tanginess.
This is kind of a curry, yet kind of not…feel free to substitute whatever meat or chile(s) you happen to have on hand. It’s not spicy as is, so if you want heat, add more chiles or sriracha to taste. As below is makes about 3 servings.
• 12 oz. rice vermicelli: $1
• 1 large T tamarind paste dissolved in 1/4 cup hot water: 12 cents
• 1 T oil: 3 cents
• 4-6 oz. ground pork (I ground a little piece of loin in the food processor*): 60 cents
• 1 very large shallot, chopped: 60 cents
• 1 serrano or Thai chile, de-seeded and de-veined and chopped: 5 cents
• 1 can coconut milk: $1.30
• 3 T sugar: 3 cents
• 3 T Thai fish sauce: 15 cents
• Lime juice to taste (optional): 10 cents
• 1 cucumber, peeled, halved, and sliced: 58 cents
TOTAL: $4.56/3 = $1.52/serving
*If you’re going this route, you could just grind the pork, shallot, and chile together.
First, strain the soaked tamarind paste through a small sieve to remove the seeds, strings, and seed particles, pressing on the solids. Reserve the liquid.
Cook the rice vermicelli according to package directions (if the package isn’t in English, try boiling for 5 minutes) and rinse very well under cold water to remove excess starch. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pork, shallot, and chili, stirring often, until pork is no longer pink. Add the coconut milk, sugar, fish sauce, and tamarind liquid. Simmer for about 5-10 minutes, until flavors have melded. Adjust fish sauce if it needs more salt, or more tamarind or lime if it needs more tanginess.
Serve over noodles, topped with cucumber slices.