Tadka is the colloquial term used for the tempering a dish, wherein certain whole dry spices and sometimes other ingredients such as ginger or garlic mince etc., are lightly fried in heated oil to flavour the dish and contribute to its sensory attributes. Tadka is also known as ‘vaghaar’, and ‘chaunk’ depending on the location and dialect. The underlying concept is that the whole spices and condiments fried briefly in oil or clarified butter release their essential oils into the frying medium and when poured in the dish, along with the oil render it fragrant and flavourful.
There are two instances when the tadka or tempering is prepared-
• In case of a vegetable curry or dry dish it can be done right at the first stage after which other main ingredients are added and cooked.
• In case of dals, sambar, chutneys, the vaghaar or tadka is performed at the end of the cooking process, in a separate pan and introduced into the dish right before it is served.
Ingredients commonly used for the tempering process include-
Mustard seeds, fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds, split black dal, asafoetida, bay leaves, curry leaves, dry red chillies, cloves, fresh green chillies, ginger julienne, finely chopped onion and garlic.
A small amount of vegetable oil or clarified butter (ghee) is heated in a small pan. Required amounts of the ingredients used for the tadka of a particular dish are arranged in a plate in the order they need to be dropped into the oil. The sequence in which the spices are introduced into the oil is determined by how much time they require to release essential oils, those requiring longer time added first and those that need less time towards the last.
In Bengali cuisine a 5 spice mix known as paanch phoran is commonly used for the tadka – be it a vegetable dish or dal.
Benefits of Tadka
• For flavouring the dish with unique properties of specific spices.
• Considering the health perspective it is possible to use minimal oil for the tadka and yet obtain maximum flavour constituents into the dish.
• Along with the essential oils released by the spices, certain fat soluble Vitamins like A, E, K may be better absorbed.
• The effect of the spices in terms of assisting the digestive processes maybe enhanced by the tempering process. The antioxidants held in the spices may be better available for use in the digestive system.
• It lends a unique regional touch to the dish, for instance a potato vegetable using a curry leaf, fenugreek, mustard seeds, red chillies and asafoetida powder as tadka, has a distinctive South Indian flavour to it. In contrast, the Bengali paanch phoran employs a different set of spices that lend a characteristic flavour to the same potato dish. A fennel seed, green chilli, ginger tadka used in Western India for tempering a potato dish will deliver an altogether different flavour. This explains why a Pujabi dal is different from a Bengali Dal which is different from a Gujrati Dal.
Thus we see how a simple tadka can significantly change the sensory characteristics of any given dish.
The Hindi term ‘chaunk’ is onomatopoetic i.e. the sound produced when one pronounces this word resembles the sizzling sound that occurs during the tadka and as the tadka is being poured into the dish.