Sampaloc/Tamarind Broth for Sinigang

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. broth1 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. broth2 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. broth3 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. broth4

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. broth5

You may make double batches of Sampaloc broth and refrigerate or freeze for future use.


10 Responses

  1. This one’s too simple, marketman :-) We’ve been making our sinigang this way since I was a wee baby :-D

  2. I agree this is simple but very satisfying. You would be surprised how few people still make this from scratch.

  3. THANK YOU!!!! My husband and I were just talking about how we are tired of the instant packet. Now all we need to do is find unripe Tamarind in San Francisco.

  4. It’s funny that you mentioned you discussed this, we had sinigang the other night and I told my grandmother that how different it is when you use real sampaloc in making this dish (we too are just using those cubes and foil packs), I mean it is just different when you sip the piping hot soup, the sensation it gives.. but my grandmother says that it is so hard to find sampaloc these days.. sad :(

  5. I could feel the joints in my jaw tightening from anticipation, almost tasting the tratness of this sinigang. Thank you again.

  6. Oh, this makes me so homesick. I remember helping my grandmother make this broth to use in sinigang, sinampalukan and a host of other sour soup dishes (we even used it with some patis or bagoon as a dip for grilled catfish. MNN!)

    Living in Washington DC, my sources for Pinoy goods are the tiny little local Filipino stores. Some frozen items (like the ripe tamarind in the shell. I’ve never seen the frozen green/unripe sampalok, though.) I’ll just have to suffer through the Knorr or Mama Sita mixes until I go back this fall. I’ll beg grandma to make some sinampalukan, old school style.

  7. I live and work in Toronto, in Canada. I inherited my finicky tastebuds from my Chinese Lola, so I can’t eat the instant stuff. I’m proud to say that I’ve never had to resort to the cubes for my sinigang. There are enough “pampa-asim” in the ethnic markets, if you are resourceful.

    I had great success using dehydrated tamarind pods, even if they’re ripe. (Mostly from Thailand–in boxes. Tamarind pulp is widely available in ethnic markets, and I heard that the flavour is excellent as well.

  8. I am so happy to come across this recipe for making sampalok broth, as I’ve always wondered about that. I, unfortunately, being here in the states and living far from Asian stores, usually just use the mix… Now to just figure out when the season for sampalok is.

    I love how your blog covers almost everything I’ve always wanted to know relating to Filipino cuisine!



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