A few years ago I took cooking classes from a dear friend on cooking with the spices of India. One constant concept taught was ‘tadka’ otherwise known as the ‘Crackling spices of India.’
The Crackling Spices - How to do it!
Tadka means to temper. Most all Indians use this method to add flavour to their dishes – but very few North Americans do. Tadka takes whole, crushed or ground spices and heats them in hot oil or ghee. Once this is done the mixture is incorporated into a dish.
It’s amazing how the hot oil retains not only the flavour, but the essence and aroma of the spices or herbs.
An Easy Process
The tadka can be added either at the beginning of your cooking or as the most final process. Generally I’ve learned that whole spices are tempered at the beginning of a dish, and then allowed to cook the flavour into it. By the same token, crushed spices or fine herbs are tempered as a last step to overlay the dish with a fragrant flavour.
I have since learned that Ayurvedic teachings tell us that the tempering or crackling of the spice allows the medicinal properties and nutritional benefits become unlocked through this process. My friend is from the north of India where cumin is more common. Apparently curry leaves are used mostly in southern regions.
I’ve also watched her roast her spices first before the addition of hot oil – the depth of the flavour was simply amazing.
One thing to totally understand about tadka is that it must be prepared as it’s to be used in order to retain the aromas as well as the taste.
Caution Must be Taken
Another caution to remember is your fat or oil must have a high heating point – so no olive oil. It’s much better to use ghee or grapeseed oil which will remain stable at very high heat. This will help ensure that your crackling spices don’t burn.
I’ve enjoyed tadka as a part of many Indian dishes, but I’m still pleasantly surprised at its use in fusion creations.
Some Great Tips for Making Tadka
If you are preparing tadka first and then adding the rest of your ingredients – be sure to use a large enough pan.
If you are using tadka as a final step, use the smallest available pan. One of the tiny one egg pans is a perfect size.
Remember that you’re spices must be readied separately. They are added quickly one after another, layering the flavour – rather than all at once. This also stops the more tender spices from burning.
No water is ever added to a tadka. – Ever.
Common spices used are cumin, curry leaves, mustard seed, red chilies and ginger. However, you may have other favorites to add as well.
Tadka cooks very, very quickly. Once the spices change colour and start to crackle – they are ready.
Make sure your dish is completely ready if this is a finishing tadka or all ingredients are ready to add if this is a beginning tadka.
If the tadka cooks too long it is burnt and can’t be salvaged – start over.
As was mentioned, tadka is an impressive way to layer flavour, essence and aroma in all cooking, but I must say, Indian cuisine seems to do it the best.
Start Your Journey at Tandoori Kingdom
A great local place to enjoy these flavours and begin your journey through Indian cuisine is at Tandoori Kingdom on Blake Street. The chefs here create spectacular dishes using the freshest of ingredients and of course, the spices of India.
Sometimes it’s a great thing to taste and understand the flavours when prepared by a pro, before attempting to recreate a dish at home. This is one of the best places in Barrie to taste exquisite Indian cuisine.
Written By: Jane Laker
Photo Credit: Stephen Elliott