Ukwaju / tamarind sauce is one of the signature foods from the Kenyan coast. I will even go as far as to say that if you leave the coast without tasting it you will have missed a lot! Food at the Kenyan coast has evolved to more of an art than most of the other regions in Kenya. This is not to say that other regions do not have fantastic foods, quite the contrary.
Where do I start in making my ukwaju?
Ukwaju is swahili for tamarind. It’s a sticky fruit that has to be removed from the pod and separated from the seeds before being used. You have the option of buying ukwaju paste from the supermarket and going straight to the ukwaju sauce making or you can also start from scratch by breaking the pods.
Where can I find ukwaju / tamarind pods in Kenya?
The ukwaju pods are widely available and abundant in Kenya. From mama mboga (local green grocer) right around the corner from your house. The trees grow wildly in some parts of kenya like the Kenyan coast and Mwingi, therefore, some people have free and easy access to them.
If you are in Nairobi, you could also opt to go the major markets like city stadium along Jogoo road, City market in Parklands, Marigiti and Muthurwa in the city centre. Some supermarkets stock the ukwaju pods in their fresh produce section.
Tips on having a successful ukwaju / tamarind sauce:
- Experiment with different ingredients and in different quantities until you come up with your own signature recipe.
- You can use some ingredients to help you in thickening of the ukwaju like carrots. They add sweetness and thickness at the same time.
- Blend your ukwaju to your preferred smoothness. There are people who like having chunks of carrots in their end products while others cannot stand this.
- The thickness of your ukwaju is really your own personal choice. If you want it thin or thick vary the amount of warm water that you will add accordingly.
- A sweetener is sometimes required depending on how tart your end product is. My sweetener of choice is honey but if you are allergic to it substitute with jaggery (sukari nguru), dates or sugar (brown or regular granulated white).
- Always ensure that your hands and the utensils that you use are very clean to avoid contamination.
What foods can I cook using the ukwaju paste?
- Porridge: The tartness of the ukwaju serves the same purpose as lemons in your uji / porridge.
- In meat curries
- As a sauce for marinating food before grilling.
- 200g Ukwaju / tamarind that has been removed from the pods
- 3 medium sized carrots, chopped into manageable sizes
- 2 Tbs honey
- 1 Tbs red chilli powder
- Salt to taste
- Shell the ukwaju pods and place them in a sufuria that has just enough water to cover them.
- Bring this to a furious boil on high heat and then lower the heat to a gentle simmer for one minute.
- Turn off the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
- Use your clean hands to massage and squeeze out the pulp.
- Pass through a sieve and repeat if desired so that you an get all the ukwaju pulp out.
- Boil the carrots until softened and allow to cool to room temperature.
- Add the ukwaju pulp, boiled carrots and rest of the ingredients into you blender and blend until smooth.
- If the sauce is too thick add some more warm water and loosen it up to your satisfaction.
- Pour into a container with a tight fitting lid and put in the refrigerator for a week.