How To Temper Spices

How To Temper Spices

If you have spent some time talking to us about our food, no doubt you will have heard us mention, tempering our spices.  In authentic Indian cooking, the key to making a truly delicious meal is not only choosing the right spices but also adding them in the right order and tempering them correctly.

Tempering of spices is a traditional method  to extract the full flavour from spices and is also known as “Tadka”.  Essentially this method is when whole or ground spices are heated in hot oil and then added to a dish.  The hot oil or ghee makes the spices more fragrant and flavoursome and brings the essence of the spices to the fore and maintains this essence when it is added to a dish.  Not only does tempering add flavour but it also unlocks the nutritional benefits of the spices.

The ingredients used in a Tadka varies dependant on the area the dish originated from.  Dishes from the North of India tend to favour cumin whilst dishes from the south prefer curry leaves.

Some things to remember

1)    If you are making a curry, then temper at the start.  If you are making a dahl, rasam or sambar then it is best to temper at the end.  If you are tempering at the end of a dish, then use a separate pan and simply add to the dish

2)    Not sure what to temper?  You can try powdered spices, cumin seeds, red dry chillies, mustard seeds, grated ginger or garlic, bay leaves or cloves.  The choice is yours

3)    You don’t need lots of oil.  One or two tablespoons is plenty

4)    Ideally use Ghee, sunflower or vegetable oil.  Olive oil in this case is not the best choice

5)    The whole process only takes a few seconds, so make sure you are prepared before you start

6)    Heat the oil, then add the seeds, followed by your other dry ingredients.  The order in which you add your spices is very important and should be based on their individual cooking time

7)    The oil or ghee should be very hot at first, then reduced to medium, then add the spices. You know the oil is hot enough when you can see a slight shimmer.

8)    You will know your tempering is done when the spices are crackling or have changed colour.  Make sure if you are using cumin or mustard seeds you let them pop in the oil

9)    If you burn the spices, you’ll have to throw your mixture out and start again, as the burnt flavour will ruin your whole dish.  The key to tempering is heat control

10) Once your tempering is complete, you can start to add your other ingredients such as onions, meat & vegetables

11) As you add more ingredients the temperature in your pot will start to drop, so you may need to add more heat

12) Don’t temper fresh herbs, rather add them at the end of the cooking process directly to the dish

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