Harish Jharia

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07 June 2013

Indian food and recipes - what is chhaunk छौंक, baghar बघार, tadkaa तड़का


© Harish Jharia 

Indian foods, cooked in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are different from their counterparts prevalent elsewhere in the world. Most of the Indian foods are independent recipes cooked separately and cannot be eaten as single eatable items. At least two items or more are required to be eaten together each time (examples- daal, sabzi, curry, roti, boiled rice etc). This Indian style of cooking and eating is different from the recipes cooked in other countries in the world, where assortments or ready-to-eat single recipes are cooked and eaten (examples- chaomin, Chicken Enchiladas, Spinach-Feta Stuffed Chicken etc).  There are many ready to eat single recipes in Indian cuisines also like khichdi, biryani, pulaos, poha, upma etc; but they are not eaten as daily foods.

In this article we are going to discuss the most important and basic cooking action called chhaunk छौंक, baghar बघार, tadkaa तड़का; without which Indian recipes are incomplete and regarded as tasteless. I tried to find English synonym for this Indian terminology but could not find across the internet. The obvious reason for that is that chhaunk छौंक, baghar बघार, tadkaa तड़का are not used in intercontinental cooking. Nevertheless, we may consider tempering or seasoning as English equivalents for Tadkaa. 

The other names of tadkaa used in different languages of India are: Nepali- jhaneko; Punjabi– tadkaa (ਤਡ਼ਕਾ, تڑکا); Gujrati– vaghaar (વઘાર); Bengal – bagar (বাগার; Tamil- Thaalittal (தாளித்தல்); Kannada- Oggarne ( ಒಗ್ಗರಣೆ ); Telugu– Thalimpoo (తాలింపు), Marathi– Phodni (फोडणी); Urdu– tadkaa (تڑکا ), baghaar (بگهار ) and  Konkani- fonna फोण्ण.

The contemporary style of applying tadkaa तड़का: Tadkaa is a cooking action done by tossing dry spices / herbs in smoking hot oil in the beginning or at the end of cooking of most of Indian recipes. By doing so the aromatic flavors of the spices / herbs are extracted from the seasonings for flavoring the cooking food. For giving tadkaa, a couple of tablespoonful of vegetable cooking oil or rectified butter (ghee घी) is poured in a frying / cooking pan. It is than heated to smoking hot state. 

The seasonings of few of the dry spices / herbs like asafetida हींग, Cumin Seeds जीरा, Mustard Seeds राई, dry red chilies सूखी लाल मिर्च, black peppercorn काली मिर्च, Bay leaf तेज पत्ता, cinnamon दालचीनी are kept ready before heating the oil for tadkaa. The raw material of the recipe like cut and washed vegetable, chicken, meat should also be kept ready before heating the oil for tadkaa. 
Once the oil comes to smoking hot state, the seasonings should be tossed into the hot oil spontaneously. The seeds of the seasonings will soon start spluttering. The cut and washed raw material of the recipe should be tossed in the pan well before the spices start burning. This entire tadkaa process takes less than a minute and you need to act as fast as possible to achieve optimum results. 

The traditional style of tadka given to Rayta रायता: Here is an exciting traditional way of applying tadkaa to an accompaniment dish cum appetizer- Rayta रायता, made of curd or buttermilk, mixed with grated cucumber or boondies बेसन की बूंदी. This style of tadkaa is followed for community cooking of Rayta with huge quantity of about 5 litres and more.

Preparation: Keep all the following items ready:
  1. Prepare Rayta रायता of your choice and keep it aside in a pot with narrow neck and covering lid.  
  2. A miniature earthen urn called small kullhad कुल्ल्हड़ / डबुलिया of about 50 ml size.
  3. A pair of tongs संडासी for holding and carrying the hot earthen pot. 
  4. Seasonings of spices /  herbs: Dry red chilies साबुत लाल मिर्च, mustard seeds राई, cumin seeds जीरा, Asafetida हींग, curry leaves कढी पत्ता
Procedure:
  1. Hold the earthen urn with the tongs and heat the same on fire.
  2. Pour vegetable cooking oil in the hot earthen pot on fire unto ¾ of it.
  3. Toss the seasonings of spices / herbs when the oil starts smoking.
  4. As soon as the seeds of spices start spluttering, carry the hot earthen pot held in the tongs to the Rayta and drop it in the Rayta. 
  5. Close the Rayta pot with its lid and you are done.
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Caution: The above procedure of tadkaa is quite adventurous and risky. Children should be kept away from the place of this cooking action. Proper care and precautions should be taken by the cook while performing various acts of this procedure; lest, severe burns and / or injuries may be inflicted.  
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