The one technique at the heart of Indian cooking goes by many names. Depending on the region, Indians will refer to it as vagarneoggaranechaunktadka (or tarka), or baghaar. But no matter what you call it, the method of frying spices (and sometimes other aromatics) in hot oil and adding them to a dish is pretty much the same throughout India; only the types of oil and spices will vary.

So why does a country of over 1.3 billion people, fully one-fifth of the world's population, filled with remarkable cultural and religious diversity, all agree on the genius of tarka? Because, simply put, it works magic. Whether you're blooming spices in oil before building a curry in a pot, or sizzling onions and chile in ghee and then stirring it into a bubbling pot of dal, the simple technique of tarka is the key to unlocking the flavor of spices and infusing it into your food.

Luckily, making a tarka, a process that's also referred to as "tempering" or "blooming," is an easy skill to learn. And just a few simple steps are all it takes to learn how to make tarka.

CHOOSE YOUR COOKING VESSEL

If you're making a tarka at the beginning of a recipe (for curry or a quick lamb-fry, for example), just use whatever pan or pot you'll be cooking the dish in. If you're making a tarka to drizzle over a finished dish, use a small skillet or saucepan, or a small tempering or tarka pot. The limited surface area helps the spices fry more efficiently.

SIZZLE YOUR SPICES (BUT DON'T SCORCH THEM)

Spices can go from toasty and flavorful to scorched in seconds, so you'll want to have them prepped and measured before you turn on the heat. This is when the functionality of that nifty Indian spice box comes in. Since you are rapidly adding spices within seconds of each other, it is handy to have all of your spices in one place and not be fumbling with a bunch of spice bottles.

Add a couple of spoonfuls of oil (canola or coconut) or ghee to the pot or pan and heat over medium until the oil is hot. Then start by sizzling the whole spices, which take longer to bloom than the ground ones. Whole cinnamon sticks will start to unfurl, cumin and coriander seeds will turn a shade darker, cardamom pods puff, mustard seeds will pop, and dried chilli will turn brown in patches—and all of that happens in just 30 seconds to a minute. Just keep stirring or shaking the pan to keep those spices cooking evenly. Ground spices bloom in a second or two, just after a quick stir, so add them last.

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