A few good things make your lips truly pucker. Sinigang made with fresh unripe sampaloc broth is one of my all time favorites in the “pucker” category. Mouthwatering, tart and pulpy, sinigang broth made the old-fashioned way is far superior to the packaged cubes that have become the mainstay of the busy and/or lazy metro cook. Living abroad for many years, I too, became accustomed to using the sinigang instant cubes or concentrates and happily wallowed in mediocrity. A couple of years ago I rediscovered how easy and how bloody good the original way of making sampaloc sinigang broth really is. There is no substitute for the near electric shock of real acid compared with the chemical equivalent hidden in those little foil packets.
Select plump, firm and unblemished unripe sampaloc (tamarind) fruit. When unripe, the fruit is snug within its greenish brown pod. If peeled, the pulp should be a bright, light green. Over time you will become an expert as to how ripe or unripe a sampaloc you prefer to use. You must balance acidity with flavor and somewhere between the near inedible rawest states and the near ripe light brown state lies true sinigang nirvana. Store the fruit outside the refrigerator if you plan to use it within two days, otherwise refrigerate.
Making Sampaloc/Tamarind broth is incredibly simple. Take a heaping handful or two (say 200-300 grams) of whole unripe sampaloc, remove any stems or leaves and wash thoroughly. Place in a pot with about 6-8 cups water and boil this at medium heat for approximately 20-30 minutes or until all the pods are very soft. Mash the pods through a sieve using some of the liquid to help the pulp and juices through the sieve. Discard the solids (especially all the brown skin bits, fibers and seeds) and strain broth again. The broth should be cloudy, tart and intensely flavorful. This is now your base for the Sinigang soup of your choice.
To make a Sinigang, heat up this broth and add water to dilute if necessary; taste to ensure that you have achieved the desired level of tartness. Add prawns and or other seafood or pre-cooked and softened meats and any vegetables you desire. Season with salt and or patis (fish sauce) to taste. My favorite sinigang has prawns, sliced onions, tomatoes, radishes and kangkong (swamp cabbage). Throw in the leafy vegetables just minutes before serving so as not to overcook. Serve hot with a bowl of steamed rice. A classic done right, this is comfort food at its finest.
You may make double batches of Sampaloc broth and refrigerate or freeze for future use.