Why Tadka / Talimpu / Chaunk?
The science behind tadka is that the aromatic compounds in spices dissolve much better in oil than in water, thus frying in ghee enhances the fragrance because of the high temperature, and also extracts the flavour to the oil, whence it can be dispersed through the food efficiently. The tadka method is a good way to deliver the spice flavour, as oil is a good transporter for them, plus putting on the lid traps the fragrant aromas so they can infuse the dish.
Although the basic concept of tempering is the same all over India, each region, every family, and every dish, has its own distinctive set of spices that are used, and its method of tempering, and of course each family claims that theirs is the best way to temper food! And of course, it is.
Tadka – South Indian Spice Tempering
In South Indian Cuisine, savoury dishes are flavoured with a tadka at the beginning or end of cooking. A tadka is a mixture of spices sauteed in ghee or coconut oil. Tadkas are also applied to green vegetables and cooked rice as well, and the most popular spices here for tadkas are black mustard seed and curry leaves. Small amounts of Urad dal and channa dal are sometimes used in tadkas as additional flavouring and textural agents.
How to Make a Tadka?
When a tadka is called for, the recipe will generally indicate the spices that will be used. Begin by heating the ghee or coconut oil, and add the black mustard seeds. Allow them some time to pop. This changes their character from mustardy, to a nutty, musky flavour. then add the spices and other ingredients in the order given in your recipe, allowing a moment or two between each addition.
Finally the curry leaves (if used) are added. These will splutter as they hits the hot oil, so be prepared.
If the tadka is being made at the beginning of the recipe, the main ingredients of the dish are now added to the tadka and cooking continues.
However if the tadka is being made as the final component of the dish, it is now poured over your dish, ghee and all, and mixed in.
The tadka gives the signature taste to your Indian dishes.