Tadka – key to delicious Indian cooking

What’s one thing which can turn even a simple dish into a drool-worthy treat? It is certainly the mix of spices you infuse into it. It is the balance of spices in any dish which make it delectable or displeasing.

So, whether you prefer things hot and spicy, bold and flavourful, or just mild, cooking just wouldn’t be the same without spice. Thus, what makes a pantry well-maintained – it the variety of spices, spice blends, and aromatics like garlic, ginger, and onion it can store.

However, to even unlock the full flavor potential of these spices, Indians have devised a key known as “tadka” – an Indian cooking technique existing for hundreds of years now and is used to enhance the taste of any Indian dish.

Tadka makes Indian dishes all the more rich and aromatic.  This technique guarantees a never like before taste,  that not only will you taste spices in a way that you’ve never tasted them before, you will want to apply this technique to every dish you make.

What is Tadka?

In English, tadka is known as “tempering.” Tadka is used to improve the zing of the spices in the dish. In this technique, the whole or ground spices are first briefly roasted in cooking oil or ghee (clarified butter) – this helps release the essential oils, hence adding more aroma to the flavors. The technique is quite popular across India and is also called as ‘Chaunk’, ‘Tarka’, or ‘Baghar’.  After roasting the whole spices, they are infused into the dish along with the oil in which they were roasted and this is called Tadka.

Most commonly, it is added to the dishes like dal (Indian lentil soup) and sambhar (lentil stew with tamarind), though the Tadka technique may also be used to make curry. The Tadka is added to the dish either at the beginning of making the dish or to give a finishing touch.

After roasting the ingredients, the tadka is added to the dish. It is a common addition to dal (Indian lentil soup) and sambar (lentil stew with tamarind broth), though the tadka technique may also be used to make curry. Adding tadka to a dish is done either at the beginning of a dish or as a finishing touch.

How to make a tadka?

Traditionally, the ingredients that go in a tadka are fried in ghee or clarified butter, but instead of it, oil can be used. When preparing tadka, the type of oil you choose plays an important role. The spices you use need to be cooked at a high temperature so that their essential oils are released properly.  So, for this one needs to use oil that can stand high temperatures. Hence, olive oil is not recommended for tadka, as it burns at high temperatures, instead, one can use expeller-pressed coconut oil when preparing tadka.

Tadka can be prepared in more than one way or utensils – in a skillet, in the pot, or in pressure cookers

Tadka can be prepared in any container that one uses to prepare a dish, including pressure cookers and slow cookers (but only if the tadka is the first thing to add to the dish), or in a special pan used to make tadka. It is a small, deep, ladle- like pan, in order to avoid whole spices from jumping out of the pan as they are cooked.

The base of tadka is more or less the same however its contents may vary from region to region.

At first, one needs to add a few tablespoons of oil to the vessel one is using and let it heat a bit then adding to the oil  a little of mustard seeds and cumin. These seeds are allowed to sizzle for a few minutes taking care not to burn the spices. This makes a basic tadka.

Now one can also add a few more ingredients like curry leaves, fresh chilies, garlic, onion, or powdered spices, which makes the basic tadka even more aromatic.

Tadka can be used before or after depending upon the dish you are cooking. Usually, Tadka is used for giving a finishing touch in dals (Indian lentils), and this Tadka composes cumin, onions, garlic, and few other powdered spices.

When one adds tadka to a dish depends on what is being made. Tadka is commonly used as the finishing touch in dals, such as this Onion Tomato Dal, which has a tadka made from cumin and curry leaves, onion, garlic, tomato, and powdered spices.

Tadka may also be added to any vegetable curry. For instance, in the Mixed Veg Curry – garlic, onion, asafetida, and cumin seeds go into Tadka to add a zing.

‘Tadka’ recipes:

A 20-minute nutritious and flavorful recipe to spice up your dinner table – Onion Tomato Dal. This dal is prepared from softened pigeon peas, sautéed onion and tomato, mixed with a warm mixture of spices.

This dal can be served as a soup, or as a side with rice, or with any flatbread, such as roti, chapati, or naan.


1/2 cup pigeon peas

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

4 curry leaves

1 onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, chopped

1-inch piece ginger finely chopped

3 green chilies, slit

1 big tomato, chopped

1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder

A pinch of asafoetida (hing) or can use onion powder

1 teaspoon lemon juice

5 strands of coriander leaves chopped

Salt, to taste


In a pressure cooker, take washed pigeon peas and add some water to give it a nice boil. Close the lid to pressure cook it for about 8 minutes, or for 2 whistles. Make sure that the water is at least 1/2-inch above level of the dal.

Once the cooker is cooled down, remove the lid and whisk the cooked pigeon peas until it is blended into a smooth paste.

Meanwhile, heat oil in the pan. Add cumin seeds and when they start to splutter, add the curry leaves and sauté for few seconds.

Add the onion, garlic, green chilis, and ginger and sauté until onion becomes translucent.

Add the chopped tomato, salt, turmeric powder, and asafoetida to the cooked pigeon peas and bring it to a nice. boil, or until the tomatoes become soft. Adjust the water for desired consistency.

Add the sauted ingredients and coriander leaves and mix well.

The onion-tomato dal is now ready. Serve hot.