Spice Island: Shrimp in Tamarind Sauce (Garam Assam)

The tiny Southeast Asian island-country of Singapore owes much of its history and ethnically diverse cuisine to piquant spices and herbs.

| October/November 2002

Shrimp in Tamarind Sauce (Garam Assam)
Serves 4

Assam is the Malay word for tamarind, and garam means irresistible. The tangy, sour flavor of tamarind, a paste made from the fruit of the tamarind tree, is said to stimulate the appetite, and it’s a popular seasoning in many Singaporean dishes.

• 2 tablespoons tamarind paste
• 4 cups water
• 2-inch piece of galangal
• 1-inch piece of turmeric
• 5 hazelnuts
• 10 shallots
• 2 Thai chiles
• 1 teaspoon dried lemongrass (or one stalk fresh)
• 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 2 tablespoons sugar
• 1 tablespoon salt
• 3/4 pound shrimp or fish

1. Place the tamarind paste in a medium mixing bowl and add water. Stir until the paste flavors the water to create a tamarind juice.
2. Strain out any leftover tamarind paste and keep only the liquid.
3. Grind the galangal, turmeric, hazelnuts, shallots, chiles, and lemongrass in a food processor or blender.
4. Heat the vegetable oil in a wok or a large pan over high heat.
5. Add the ground spice mixture and 1 tablespoon of the tamarind juice and stir-fry for two minutes.
6. Continuing on high heat, add the remaining tamarind juice, sugar, and salt.
7. Bring to a boil, addthe shrimp or fish and simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes. Serve over steamed rice.

Bunga kantan (Etlingera elatior). This edible stalklike plant, called torch ginger, produces lovely blooms. The flowering shoots are used in Malaysian curries. Indian vendors shred bunga kantan over a dish called rojak (a mixture of tropical fruits and vegetables).

Galangal (Alpinia galanga). Called lengkuas in Malay, this orange-colored rhizome tastes similar to ginger and is used in spicy cooking all over Southeast Asia.

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