The Indian Cooking Method That Adds New Depths Of Flavor To Spices

Indian cuisine is best known for its myriad use of spices. They lend heat and depth to countless curries, dals, and slow-simmering stews that make up the vibrant culinary landscape of the country.

One of the ways that those spices are infused into a dish is a method known as a tarka (via Go Spice). Tarkas are used throughout the Indian sub-continent, and can also be referred to as tadka, baghaar, chhaunk, thalipu, or vagarane, per Simmer to Slimmer. These are all different names for a method in which spices are tempered into some form of fat by simmering the items together.

This accomplishes multiple purposes when done correctly. According to Go Spice, a tarka infuses the flavors of the spices into the fat so they can spread more easily through the dish. It also allows the spice's flavors to bloom and adds more depth to their flavor. Simmer to Slimmer notes that tempering the spices also unlocks their full nutritional potential so that diners can get their full benefits. Tarkas are a great way to add tons of flavor to a dish, and they're relatively easy to prepare.

How to prepare a tarka

Tarka are relatively easy to make, and even better, they are easy to customize. While this might be a method associated with Indian cuisine, it can be used just as easily with Italian, Chinese, Mexican, or any other blend of spices for any dish you'd like. The only ingredients needed are your preferred blend of seasonings and fat.

Serious Eats notes that while most fats will do the trick, you'll need to decide whether you want your fat to add more flavor or serve as a neutral base. Coconut or mustard oil might add an interesting element to a curry, but something neutral like grapeseed oil will do just as well.

For spices, Go Spice recommends whole spice seeds such as cumin, mustard, fenugreek, fennel, coriander cloves, cinnamon quills, cardamom pods, bay leaves and black peppercorns as great options for a tarka. Some will blend into the dish, but larger pieces should be left to the side of the plate. Garlic, ginger, and chilies can also be added at the end, and take relatively little time to infuse into the fat. The most important thing is to find a balance between the elements in the tarka, and the rest of the dish.

Go Spice says that it only takes a few minutes for the mixture to sizzle at a low temperature before it's ready. A finished tarka should fill your kitchen with the spice's aromas, and be immediately served onto the finished dish.