Indian Tomato Sauce with Tamarind and Coconut: So Many Uses

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Tomato Tamarind SauceI whipped up this sauce one day on a whim during the heart of tomato season. It could certainly be made just as easily with canned tomatoes; no doubt that’s exactly what I’ll do when an Indian food craving strikes during the wintertime.

I can’t even tell you how pleased I am with this sauce’s big, bold flavors. I love making homemade tomato sauce from scratch—here’s a how-to cooking video, in case you were wondering—and this Indian-scented version takes a fraction of the time, with delectable results.

The whitish dots you see in the photo are fresh coconut, which is a key part of the flavor profile. (Frozen or dried could be used as a substitute, but make sure it’s unsweetened.) Don’t let the drupe fool you, though: this is a savory sauce with just a soupçon of sweetness. And it’s really the combination of all the ingredients together that create a Bollywood party on your palate.


  • 1/4 cup canola or other vegetable oil
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 1 poblano or green pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 red pepper, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon habañero or other hot pepper, finely minced (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper, several grinds (about 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
  • 8 large tomatoes, very ripe, diced (or about 6 cups diced from cans)
  • 2 heaping tablespoons tamarind paste
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • Dash cayenne (optional)
  • ~1/2 coconut, fresh, finely grated (about 1 cup)
  • ~1/2 cup coconut water
  • 2 cups tomato sauce (no salt added)
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped (optional)
  • 1-2 teaspoons agave nectar (or honey) (optional)


Heat the oil in a large pot at medium-high. Add onions and peppers, season with salt and pepper, and cook until soft, about 5-6 minutes; mix often to prevent burning. Add the ginger and garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add diced tomatoes, lower heat to medium, and cook for about 15-20 minutes, until broken down, stirring occasionally. While tomato mixture is cooking, drain the water from the coconut, break the flesh into small-medium pieces, and transfer 1/2 of it along with 1/2 cup of the liquid into a food processor; amounts can be approximate.(Save remaining fruit and juice for another use.) Pulse until finely chopped. Add coconut to the tomato mixture along with the tomato sauce, tamarind paste, and spices. Stir well and simmer uncovered over low heat about 15-30 minutes; mixture will thicken as it cooks. (You can add a few tablespoons of tomato paste if you prefer a thicker sauce.) Stir in the chopped cilantro and taste and reseason with salt and pepper, as desired, adding agave or honey if needed for balance.

Swordfish in Tomato Tamarind SauceJust like “regular” tomato sauce of Italian ilk you’re probably used to eating, Indian tomato sauce is also quite versatile and freezes beautifully.It can also be used as a base for a variety of mixed dishes, like my swordfish with coconut chutney pictured below, or sublime tomato-coconut soup.

I’ll bet you can think of a few tasty dishes of your own, too, to use this amazing sauce. If so, please do share them in the comments section of my blog.

And thanks for reading!

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Dr. P.K. Newby is a nutrition scientist, speaker, and author with expertise in all things food, farm to fork, whether preventing obesity and other chronic diseases through diet or teaching planet-conscious eating. As a health expert and food personality, she brings together her passions for food, cooking, science, and sustainability to educate and inspire, helping people eat their way towards better health, one delectable bite at a time. Healthy Hedonism (TM) is her philosophy: Because healthy food shouldn’t suck.

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