What Is Tadka?

This core technique in Indian cooking blooms whole spices in fat to extract bold flavors.

Tadka (variously known as chhonk, bagar, phodni, vagarne, oggarane, and more, depending on the region) is a core technique in Indian cooking that involves blooming whole spices (and sometimes other ingredients) in fat to extract their aromas and fat-soluble flavors. The highly perfumed fat and its contents are either spooned onto a finished dish (which often incites a flourish of crackling and sizzling) or incorporated during cooking. The particular ingredients in tadka vary greatly depending on the food that is being seasoned as well as the cook’s community, caste, and region, but classic combinations do exist. For instance, in Kerala, a mix of coconut, cinnamon stick, star anise, and clove is popular; Punjabis combine cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, clove, ginger, garlic, and onion; and Bengali cooks enjoy black mustard seed, cumin seed, nigella seed, and fenugreek seed. Regardless of the particular ingredients, the contributions of a tadka are many.

RICHNESS: Oil or ghee makes lean dishes more satisfying.

FLAVOR: Whole (and sometimes ground) spices, fresh and dried chiles, curry leaves, ginger, garlic, and onions offer vivid flavor, heat, and depth.

AROMA: As whole spices bloom in hot fat, they may darken in color, unfurl, pop, or puff. They will also release pungent aromas that will perfume your kitchen—and your food.

COLOR AND TEXTURE: Whole spices contribute tremendous visual and textural character to even the simplest of dishes.

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