Tamarind Beet-Onion Salad

Updated February 23, 2016
This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

Beets were eaten plain in Aleppo, and it is still a common sight to see freshly peeled whole cooked beets on the lunch or dinner table. The tamarind paste in this recipe is a tart contrast to the beets, making for a very interesting sweet-and-savory combination. Look for smooth, hard, round beets for this recipe. A deep red color indicates quality. Yellow or orange beets can be used as well.

The tamarind fruit yields an intriguing flavor that appears in the cuisines of India, Southeast Asia, Persia, and Mexico. Tamarind is redolent of apricots and dates and imparts a tangy, sour flavor. It is used as a base for sauces, a condiment, a soft drink flavoring, a sweetmeat, and as a folk remedy for ailing intestines, livers, and kidneys.

Tamarind also has a connection to the Middle East. For one thing, the word “tamarind” is derived from the Arabic tamr hindi, meaning “Indian date.” Tamarind first appeared in the souqs of the Levant from India via Persia around the seventh and eighth centuries. Despite its place in Persian cuisine, tamarind never gained wide acceptance in the Middle Eastern repertoire.

Aleppian Jews, however, flavor many of their dishes with tamarind concentrate, or ouc (pronounced OO-c), and many still make ouc from scratch, despite the widespread availability of quality concentrates in local Syrian food shops. It’s important to use a good-quality tamarind; it can make or break a dish. Some ouc specialists start out with 20 or 30 pounds of tamarind pulp, enough for at least several months’–if not a full year’s–supply.

Ouc is derived from the pulp found in the pods that grow from the hardy tamarind tree. Latin American, Southeast Asian, and Middle Eastern grocers sell dried tamarind pods and cakes of the pulp, intact or compressed in large sticky blocks.

To make ouc, the pulp is soaked and strained to remove any seeds and plant matter, and to extract the fruit’s flavor. This soaking and straining procedure is repeated up to 3 times. The tamarind liquid is reduced by half and then combined with sugar and lemon juice and boiled until viscous, nearly black, and lip-smackingly sour. It is fine to use ouc sparingly, as it can last for a year in the fridge.

Ouc is a subtler souring agent than lemon, tangier than pomegranate syrup, and has a deeper flavor than tomato. Ouc while itself rather acidic, enhances other acids, such as tomato paste, apricot, and lemon juice, rounding them out with a vibrant tang and earthiness.

4 to 6 servings



Total Timeunder 1 hour

Make Ahead RecipeYes

OccasionBuffet, Family Get-together

Recipe Courseantipasto/mezze, side dish

Dietary Considerationegg-free, gluten-free, halal, kosher, lactose-free, low cholesterol, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free, vegan, vegetarian

Mealdinner, lunch

Taste and Textureherby, hot & spicy, savory, spiced, sweet, tart

Type of Dishvegetable


  • 6 beets (2 pounds), peeled and stems trimmed
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons ouc (tamarind concentrate), homemade or store-bought (see Notes)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • ½ small onion, chopped (about ¼ cup)


Put the beets in a large saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the beets are fork-tender. (Larger beets may be sliced in half before cooking to speed up the cooking time.)

Drain the beets and “shock” in a bowl of ice and cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain again. Cut into ½-inch cubes and transfer to a medium mixing bowl.

To make the dressing, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, ouc, cumin, Aleppo pepper, and salt in a small mixing bowl and mix well.

Pour the dressing over the beets. Add the parsley and onions and give it a stir. Refrigerate until ready to serve.



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