Tempering or Tadka or Taalimpu…depending on which language you are speaking lends the unique flavours to Indian cooking. Almost every Indian recipe, except Dessert, is tempered with crackling spices. Anyone who aspires to learn Indian cooking has to learn the art of tempering…we burn some…but eventually we learn. Usually heating is associated with the word temper. But in the context of Indian cooking, the term ‘temper’ takes on a very different meaning.
How is this tempering done? Primarily by heating a little oil or clarified butter and adding the relevant spices until they change colour or crackle. Here again although the basic concept of tempering is the same all over the country, each region or for that matter every family has its own distinctive way of tempering, and each claims proudly & possessively that theirs is the best way to temper food!
An Indian kitchen is incomplete without two things – 1) the deafening sound of the pressure cooker and 2) the tempering box or masala box. The general ingredients that go into the various compartments of this box are: cumin, mustard, split black gram, chilli powder, turmeric powder, coriander powder. The seventh container in the centre can be filled with cinnamon, cloves and cardamom. Asafoetida is often kept in a tiny bottle within the box, but with its lid closed since it has a very strong aroma. Some boxes are fitted with a rimmed tray for dry chillis and bay leaves.
Each of these ingredients has something to offer in terms of good health…especially for proper digestion. Turmeric is used for its great healing as well as cosmetic properties. Haven’t we all heard our grandmothers say that if a pregnant woman takes turmeric regularly, her child will have beautiful skin! Black gram is added for its heating quality, cumin for its cooling, digestive properties and mustard seeds are supposed to relieve muscular pain. Asafoetida and fenugreek are excellent digestives, especially after a heavy meal.
So, next time you open that masala box, pause and take note that it holds lots of secrets to our health!
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