Desmond Tan, owner and founder of Burma, Inc.—which has three restaurants in San Francisco, Oakland, and Alameda, California—swears by a flavored salt that works as an alternative to MSG.

Secret Ingredient: Tamarind salt, made by grinding kosher salt with seedless tamarind pulp. While writing his cookbook, “Burma Superstar,” Tan developed the seasoning as a substitute for MSG, a common ingredient in Burmese cuisine, anticipating that many American home cooks would shy from it. Tamarind is widely grown and used in Burma, so the substitution still preserves the cuisine’s authenticity.

How to Use It: “Because tamarind and salt both make your mouth water, think of this as a homemade MSG substitute,” Tan writes in his cookbook. “It can be used on virtually everything that needs more salt. A coffee grinder reserved for spices is all you need to make tamarind salt, although the machine will get a bit of a workout. Tamarind salt is also a great alternative to fish sauce if you’re looking to keep things on the vegetarian side.”

Tamarind Salt

Makes a heaping 1/4 cup

  • 3/4 ounce seedless tamarind pulp
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt

Pull the tamarind pulp into small pieces with your hands, removing any large pits. Toss the pulp in the salt and let it dry out for at least an hour or overnight. In two batches, pulse the salt and tamarind in a coffee grinder until the tamarind is ground thoroughly into the salt. Be patient. If the grinder gets jammed, give it a shake and try grinding again.

Store in an airtight container indefinitely.

Recipe reprinted with permission from “Burma Superstar: Addictive Recipes from the Crossroads of Southeast Asia” by Desmond Tan and Kate Leahy. Published by Ten Speed Press.

Desmond Tan, owner and founder, Burma, Inc. (Courtesy of Burma, Inc.)
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