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The Big, Bold Flavors of Shrimp Tamarind

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