Boldly Spicy Tamarind Ribs

Boldly Spicy Tamarind Ribs

I have clear memories of barbeque season. You see, growing up, we lived in a city with scorching summer heat — barbequing was a necessity. It was a newfangled way to spend time, especially with the cousins, aunts, and uncles always dropping by on weekends. My parents were consummate hosts, so using our backyard for entertaining, helped break up the monotony. I have to give them credit for trying their best to emulate Canadian traditions (within reason) – they wanted us to experience some form of Canadian normalcy.

We had a charcoal grill. Dad, who is an archetypal early bird, started the whole barbeque process early afternoon. He along with my siblings, usually my sisters, (I was told to stay away from the grill) would load up the grill with charcoal briquettes and pour on the lighter fluid. My sisters point out there was always too much, WAY TOO MUCH, lighter fluid added to the mix. A match would be lit and all you would see was flames. EXCESSIVE FLAMES. My mom would yell from the patio, “Get the kids away from the grill!” The briquettes would then be left to slowly smoulder. The resulting food was nothing spectacular, but it did have a wonderful smoky flavour.

Over the years, we moved houses a few times– our barbeque grill got more high-tech and our savvy increased. A big influence can be attributed to my brother-in-law, Satnaum. He is a barbeque aficionado. He’s that guy. The one who has secret marinade recipes. Knows his meat cuts. Has a well-developed barbeque palate. Basically, he has no qualms about lighting up the grill and creating something akin to a meat masterpiece.

It feels like summer — at least where I am today. When the temperature soars, all I want is barbequed anything. Usually grilled vegetables, chicken, fish, even tofu, but on occasion it has to be ribs ribs ribs ribs! Sometimes you need an all-star meal that requires you to get your hands dirty with meaty morsels that are tender and lusciously packed with flavour. Where it’s obvious you are within the realms of a place called Flavourtown. Your face, especially your mouth, is smeared with sticky sauce that is sweet, tangy, and boldly spicy.

Warning: these ribs need time to cook, so plan ahead. They are a long and slow process, but so worth the effort. I recently discovered a super simple way to cook moist, tender ribs. The key to making these ribs is in the method. You can even prepare these finger-licking gems in your oven, early in the morning and then finish them on your outdoor grill, come dinnertime. Or, you could also do the whole process in the oven, using the broiler to help brown them up nicely, when the temperature drops and you have a hankering for ribs. Either way, they’re delicious.

I begin with a dry rub which coats and permeates the meat with a sweet, spicy, smoky flavour as the ribs cook long and slow in a low-heat oven.  The”lovely deep brown spice rub” is made from garam masala, ground fennel, paprika, cinnamon, brown sugar, dried ginger, cumin, chili powder, mustard seed, lemon pepper, and black pepper. I tuck each rack into a layer of parchment paper and then encase it tightly within foil.

While the meat sleeps in the oven, I make the spicy barbecue sauce from (take a deep breath) garlic, onion, chillies, bay leaves, paprika, brown sugar, tamarind, whole grain Dijon mustard, apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, rootbeer, and sriracha. The naturally tart tamarind keeps the barbecue sauce from becoming too sweet, while the rootbeer and Dijon mustard add more complexity. My favourite addition is the sriracha, which I adore. I usually add more than noted in the recipe. Use your own discretion.

Thirty minutes before serving, light up your grill (hopefully without overwhelming flames) and transfer the ribs to the grill. Slather with the spicy tamarind BBQ sauce. The scorching heat from the grill bronzes up the meat. This step adds another layer of flavour to the ribs, making them even more moist and succulent, and spicy.

One of these ribs greatest charms is how well they play with others. I recommend the jalapeno carrot salad shown in the picture, but sometimes more splurge and substance is necessary. These ribs are perfection with Raita Biscuits, Insane Macaroni and Cheese, Spicy Turmeric Potatoes, Chaat Spiked Greek Salad, Masala Corn, and Indian Coleslaw. (Don’t fret, recipes are forthcoming on this blog).

Boldly Spicy Tamarind Ribs

4 racks of pork ribs

Spice Rub

1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon cayenne (or to taste)
2 tablespoons ground masala
1 teaspoon ground fennel
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon dried ginger
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon ground, mustard seed (rai)
1 teaspoon lemon pepper


In a bowl add all the ingredients. Stir to make sure they are evenly distributed.

Lay out four sheets of parchment paper on the counter. Place each rack of ribs on a sheet. Sprinkle half the rub over the first side of the ribs and massage into the meat evenly. Flip the ribs over and massage the rest of the rub into the other side. Cover the ribs tightly with parchment paper and then encase in foil, tightly. Double foil if everything is not completely tight. Place two racks on each rectangular baking sheet.

Bake ribs at 300 F for about 3 hours.

Tamarind Barbecue Sauce

3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
1/4 cup Tamarind concentrate
1 cup plain store bought barbeque sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon paprika
4 tablespoons of whole grain Dijon mustard
1/4 cup sriracha (more if you want it even spicier)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 can of rootbeer
2 bay leaves

Warm oil in a saucepan set over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and sauté until almost dry, about 3 minutes. Add all the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Bring to a boil and lower to a simmer. Cook until thickened, about 20 minutes. Cool. Place in a blender and puree the sauce. Store in refrigerator until ready to use.

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