Mastering the Indian technique of tarka (or tadka) will take your food, Indian and otherwise to a higher notch. Tarka is a process that is also called “tempering” or “blooming” and is incredibly easy and super quick. Bonus.
Simply put, making a tarka is the method of frying spices in hot fat. Tempering spices in this way unlocks maximum flavour from them, infuses the oil and in turn, your food. The whole process of making a tarka takes no longer than a minute and is incredibly easy, but a lively process that requires you to have eagle eyes, good timing and intuition.
There are two stages of cooking in which you would make a tarka for Indian cuisine; you could bloom your spices at the very beginning of a recipe for a curry or quick meat-fry, for example. Alternatively, you would bloom your spices/ make a tarka at the end of cooking to drizzle over the finished dish, such as a dal. The tarka in a “Tarka Dal” elevates it by adding an intense flavour bomb to the buttery lentils.
As well as Indian food, you could add a tarka to a soup or plain rice as a quick, delicious way to add extra flavour. I usually temper my spices in ghee because I love the flavour, however you could use oil such as canola or coconut if you wanted to keep it vegan or prefer the taste.
Here are some tips for making a tarka:
- Choose you pot or pan wisely. If you’re planning on tempering your spices at the beginning for a curry, then use a big pot which gives you space to add your meat, veggies and sauce. If you’re making a tarka to add to a dal then use a small saucepan which will help the spices to fry most efficiently.
- Have all of your spices to hand before you think about making your tarka. It’s a quick process so you need to have everything organised so’s your spices don’t burn.
- Make sure that your oil is super hot before adding your spices so that the aroma of the spices is infused into the oil in the best way possible.
- Add your spices in the correct order. Ground spices will cook a lot faster then whole so add the ground spices at the very end for just a few seconds.
- Trust what you see and smell. All your spices will begin to pop, brown, puff and unfurl in just 30 seconds to a minute. Ass soon as you begin to notice this and smell the amazing aromas filling your kitchen, it’s the to take your spices off the heat.
- Once your spices have bloomed, add them to your dal immediately by simply pouring them on top of the finished dish. If you’re tempering at the beginning of the dish then have your other ingredients such as the aromatics, meat and veggies to hand which you can add to the pan, lower the heat and add moisture. If you leave the spices in the pan whilst you get on with something else, they will burn.
- Experiment with your spices and fat, figure out what you prefer and what the dish could benefit from.
Here is a basic recipe for a tarka which you can use, adjust and experiment with. I would pour this on top of a dal for around 4 people and you could just the same or finish off a soup with it. Follow my tips above and you’ll have a delicious blend of tempered spices and oil which you can add to dishes.