The Big, Bold Flavors of Shrimp Tamarind

Tamarind, lemongrass and fish sauce give this easy shrimp stir-fry a big boost.

Tamarind, lemongrass and fish sauce give this easy shrimp stir-fry a big boost.


For weeknights especially, I’m always on the hunt for recipes that promise big bang for the buck.

Not necessarily economically. Though, that’s always a plus, too.

But more so in terms of delivering bold, brash, satisfying flavors without a lot of effort.

“Shrimp Tamarind” is just such a dish.

It’s from “The Vietnamese Market Cookbook” (Running Press), of which I received a review copy last year. The book is by Van Tran and Anh Vu, Vietnamese-natives who now run a couple of popular market stalls and cafes in London. Their focus is on recipes easily made at home, such as “Asparagus and Crabmeat Soup,” “Salmon with Ginger Caramel.” and “Braised Eggplant.”

“Shrimp Tamarind” comes together in the time it takes your rice cooker to cook up some fluffy steamed rice to accompany this dish.

It’s even easier if you keep a well-stocked pantry and an herb garden. My freezer is always stocked with shrimp. Even if I forget to defrost the shrimp in my fridge two days before needing, I can do so quickly by just running them under cold water. I try to keep a block of tamarind or a jar of concentrate in my fridge. And I grow my own lemongrass, which is pretty easy, even for someone who doesn’t have a green thumb like myself.

Stir together the tamarind, some hot water, sugar, fish sauce and that finely chopped lemongrass for a sauce that comes together in a flash and ricochets across the palate with umami saltiness, fruity tang and lovely floral citrus flavors.

The recipe makes quite a lot of sauce compared to the meager amount of shrimp called for, which is 5 ounces or about 4 to 5 medium shrimp per person. In fact, you’ll have to eat this dish with a lot of rice and a generous amount of vegetables in order for it to be enough for dinner. Or you can easily double the amount of shrimp called for (which I give the option for in the recipe below), so it amply serves enough for two, and possibly even three.

There’s definitely enough sauce to do so. And it doesn’t take any more time whatsoever.


Shrimp Tamarind

(Serves 2 to 3)

For the tamarind sauce:

2 tablespoons tamarind pulp, cut from a slab

4 tablespoons hot water, plus more as needed

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 teaspoon finely chopped lemongrass

For the shrimp:

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoons crushed garlic

1 teaspoon chopped shallot

5 to 10 ounces fresh medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

To garnish:

2 spring onions, sliced

A few sprigs cilantro

To make the sauce: In a small bowl, soak the tamarind pulp in just enough hot water to cover it for 10 to 20 minutes, until it becomes soft. Using a fine-mesh sieve, strain the juice into a mixing bowl; discard the solids. Stir in the sugar, fish sauce, and lemongrass. (If you want a slightly sourer or sweeter sauce, adjust the quantities to your taste.)

To cook the shrimp: Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a frying pan or wok and saute the crushed garlic and chopped shallot for a few minutes until fragrant. Stir in the shrimp, turning them frequently. When they start to turn pink, add the tamarind sauce and simmer for a couple of minutes to marry the flavors.

Garnish with slices of spring onion and sprigs of cilantro before serving.

Adapted from “The Vietnamese Market Cookbook” by Van Tran and Anh Vu


More Easy Shrimp Recipes: Malaysian-Style Stir-Fried Tumeric Shrimp


And: Shrimp Simmered in Garlicky Beer Sauce


And: Thyme Roasted Shrimp

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  • Yup, big flavor is big around here, too. Love tamarind — such an interesting flavor. I use it in Indian food a lot. This is such a great looking dish — definitely my kind of food. Thanks.

  • Great idea for a weeknight dinner. I have some shrimp in the freezer that might do well with this recipe. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I have to admit, I really don’t know what the flavor of tamarind is like? I just think it’s umami or soy sauce? How would you describe? It always sound so exotic though. Your dish looks mouth-watering either way. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • I love tamarind and shrimp, so this would be great for a weeknight dinner! Thanks for the recipe. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Ben: You’ve definitely had tamarind. If you’ve had pad thai, you’ve had it for sure. It has a very pronounced fruity, sweet-sour taste.

  • I would love this for a weeknight meal! And, this reminds that I need to replace my lemongrass plant that succumbed to freezing weather. It’s so great to have it in the herb garden.

  • i’m quite particular about shrimp, and i think this sounds delicious–right up my alley!

  • LOL! Well, mystery solved. Seven years and one pandemic later, I think I know why I bought that brick of tamarind way back i the day. Pretty sure it was this very recipe that caught my eye and called out for me to try it. I will ask my Vietnamese daughter-in-law to source me some lemongrass with enough “bottom” left that I may be able to root it & have on hand for future use. Have been meaning to do that for a long time. I’ll let you know when I get all my ducks in order and finally give this a try, Carolyn. Thanks for re-pointing me back in this direction!

  • Hi Carroll: It’s true — tamarind gets lots in my fridge, too! I should thank YOU for reminding me that I should use my supply soon, too. It’s been way to long since I’ve enjoyed its tangy, fruity goodness. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • And here we are now, merely five months later, when your braised lamb with tamarind post reminded me of this one. I was indeed successful in sourcing a couple of rootable pieces of lemongrass, which seems to have taken nicely to being potted up in a sunny location. It’s not quite robust enough for me to risk harvesting a piece yet though, so following through on these enduring good intentions will have to wait just a bit longer. The lamb though looks doable. Just need to source myself a sheep! Stay tuned!

  • Carroll: I, too, have a stalk or two of lemongrass growing in my yard. I think the squirrels have been nibbling on them, though. So, like you, I’m going to have to wait a little longer to actually have a long enough stalk to use! LOL

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