This is what happens when BBQ sauce takes a vacay
The tropical ingredients in this sauce suggest serving it with Caribbean-style barbecue. But come to think of it, it tastes pretty good on American-style barbecue, too.
The notion of tamarind-banana barbecue sauce sounds exotic, even downright strange, but it makes sense historically and geographically. Barbecue originated in the Caribbean; barbacoa was the Arawak Indian word for a grill. And tamarind and bananas are traditional flavorings of the West Indies. (Tamarind is a key ingredient in many commercial steak and barbecue sauces.)
I think of tamarind as sweet-and-sour sauce in a pod, boasting an acidity reminiscent of fresh lime juice and a sweetness akin to prunes. (The fruit takes its name from the Arabic words tamr hindi, literally “Indian date.”) The tricky part about using tamarind is reducing the stringy, seed-studded pulp to a smooth purée. Ethnic markets and specialty greengrocers sometimes carry fresh tamarind pods. Look for pods with cracked dusty-brown skins, which indicate ripeness. Alternatively, buy peeled tamarind pulp, which is sold in blocks at Hispanic markets and at many supermarkets. It is easier to use and there’s no appreciable difference in flavor. Better still, you may be able to buy frozen tamarind purée (look for it in Indian markets), in which case you can handily skip that part of this recipe. Tamarind purée is sometimes called tamarind water.
In the following recipe, tamarind supplies a fruity acidity, while the sweetness comes from bananas and molasses.
Tamarind Banana Barbecue Sauce
- 8 ounces tamarind pods (8 to 10 pods)
- 1 1/2 cups boiling water
- 1 1/2 cups tamarind purée, or more to taste
- 1 onion, minced
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
- 1/2 Scotch bonnet chile or other hot chile, seeded and minced
- 1/2 green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
- 2 ripe bananas, peeled and chopped
- 1/4 cup dark rum
- 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar, or more to taste
- 1/4 cup molasses
- 1/4 cup raisins
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- salt, to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
MAKE THE TAMARIND PURÉE
- If using tamarind pods, peel and pry off the skin with a paring knife. If using a block of pulp, break it into 1-inch pieces. Place the tamarind in a blender with 1 cup of the boiling water. Let the tamarind soften for 10 minutes.
- Run the blender in short bursts at low speed for 15 to 20 seconds to obtain a thick brown liquid. Do not over-blend, or the seeds will break up. Strain the liquid into a bowl, pressing hard with a wooden spoon to extract the juices and scraping the bottom of the strainer with a spatula.
- Return the pulp in the strainer to the blender and add the remaining ½ cup boiling water. Blend, then strain the mixture into a bowl, pressing well to extract the juices. Tamarind purée will keep for up to 5 days, covered, in the refrigerator and can be frozen for several months. I like to freeze it in plastic ice cube trays, so I have convenient premeasured portions on hand.
MAKE THE BBQ SAUCE
- Thaw or prepare the tamarind purée. Combine all the ingredients in a heavy nonreactive saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and continue simmering, uncovered, until the vegetables and bananas are soft and the sauce is well flavored, 15 to 20 minutes.
- Transfer the sauce to a blender or food processor and purée. Correct the seasoning, adding salt, brown sugar, or more tamarind purée. The sauce should be sweet, sour, and spicy. If too thick, add a little water. Use right away or transfer to jars, cover, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate. The sauce will keep for several weeks.