I have been teaching the art of Tadka / tempering / talippu to my students. This is an often overlooked art and not usually taught. All restaurants follow this practice to make the curries come to life.
Tadka translates as "tempering", in Tamil it is called "Thallippu". It is a method widely used in Indian cuisine, in which whole or ground spices are heated in hot oil or ghee then added to a dish. Tempering is very important and can be done either at the beginning of the cooking process or as a final flavouring at the end.
Ingredients used in tempering vary but all include ghee or oil, or a mixture of both. In North India the spices usually include cumin seeds, fennel seeds, fresh green chillies, dried red chillies, bay leaf, cloves, cardamom, fresh ginger, and onions. There is some variation depending on the dish. For dal fresh tomatoes are added to the tadka. In curries kasoori methi is first crushed between the palm and sprinkled over the curry followed by hot sizzling tadka. The tadka spice powder includes turmeric, kashmiri red chilli powder and garam masala.
In South India mustard seeds are most commonly used followed by chana dal, urad dal, asafoetida and curry leaves. This is done on dals, rasams, yoghurt curry and more. Fresh coriander is used to finish off the process.
In East India tempering is done with mustard oil and panch poran (cumin, brown mustard seeds, fenugreek, nigella and fennel).
When using multiple ingredients in tempering, they are often added in succession, with those requiring longer cooking added earlier, and those requiring less cooking added later.
My students love this act, and the difference it makes to any dish even astonishes me. I encourage all of you to give it a try. All you need is a small pan to do this and trust me you will wonder how you made dishes without this step before.
Stay blessed, enjoy cooking remember food has to be made with love as it not only fills the stomach it nourishes the soul of your loved ones.
Tip - Add Tadka to your leftover curries and be amazed.