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Tempering/Seasoning de-constructed – Part II

In this part of the blog, I will complete my description of tempering ingredients. I will talk about dried red chillies, dried curry leaves, asafoetida, turmeric,  red chilli powder and their use in tempering. The key thing about tempering is that it is never a single ingredient but a combination of the ingredients in the picture below used to add extra flavour to any dish you make.

Spices used in tempering
Spices used in tempering

Tempering ingredients continued :

6. Dried red chillies

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Dried red chillies

Dried red chillies can be obtained in Indian or Asian supermarkets. Beware that they can be really hot and make sure you wash your hands thoroughly after touching them. Also, only use them if you are able to take a bit of spice in your food. Smoking dried red chillies in oil releases their hotness into the oil and ultimately into the dish you are making. So if you can’t handle spice, leave chillies out of your food.

In Hindi, these spicy additions are called “Lal mirch” and in Kannada they are called “Vona menshinkai”.

To temper dried red chillies, one adds them to hot oil and waits for them to turn a shade darker. Put them in at the end of the tempering as over-roasting the chillies will release their smokiness and you and everyone at home will have a coughing fit for at least 5 mins.

7. Dried curry leaves:

Dried Curry leaves
Dried Curry leaves

Fresh curry leaves are much better and give more flavour than dried ones. However, I have thrown away and wasted many a fresh bag of curry leaves owing to the fact that I don’t cook Indian food everyday. I found that dried curry leaves are a decent and pragmatic alternative.

In Hindi they are called “kari patta” and in Kannada they are called “Karbevu”.

To temper curry leaves, one adds them to hot oil and waits for them to turn a shade darker. Fried curry leaves are quite crisy and crunchy. My mum always made me eat curry leaves and said that if I did my hair would grow long and black. I don’t know how much truth there is to it but I did eat them.

8. Ground Asafoetida

Ground asafoetida
Ground asafoetida

Asafoetida is a resin-like substance extracted from a herb that is native to Afghanistan. This resin is dried and sold as small lumps or  and in the form of ground asafoetida where it is mixed with rice flour and gum Arabic (or so says Wikipedia). Asafoetida has a strong and really sulphurous smell (think rotten eggs) and can stink up your cupboard if left open so it is best to leave it in open air with the lid closed. It is known to aid digestion and is used as an anti-flatulent in the Indian subcontinent. For instance, I have, as a child been made to drink a glass of watered-down yoghurt with salt and asafoetida when I complained of a tummy ache. A lot of orthodox Hindus who won’t eat garlic or onion, use asafoetida as a flavour substitute for these pungent, “impure” vegetables.

Asafoetida is known as “hing” in Hindi and “ingu” in Kannada.

Asafoetida is something I add to test if the oil is hot enough for the rest of the tempering. If the oil is ready, then the asafoetida should fizzle the second it touches the oil. If not, wait a minute or two before adding the remaining ingredients to the oil.

9. Ground Turmeric

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Ground turmeric

This is probably an ingredient that most people are familiar with. If you wonder why your fingers are yellow after eating Indian takeaway – blame turmeric. If your kitchen counter, cleaning cloth etc have a yellow tinge to them – blame turmeric. The blame list is endless and it is a bloody hard stain to get rid of.

Turmeric is a rhizome (i.e the stem of a plant that grows underground) and the turmeric stem looks much like stem ginger as it belongs to the same family of plants. The main difference is that fresh turmeric is a much lighter colour than fresh ginger, has a thinner skin and a mild and pleasant smell. Mum used to grow them in the front yard of our house in India as it also has a religious significance. To make ground turmeric, the turmeric root is boiled for several hours and dried in a hot oven before being ground into a fine yellow powder.

Turmeric is called “haldi” in Hindi and “arishina” in Kannada.

Turmeric is added to hot tempering oil much like asafoetida. If it sizzles right away, the oil is ready for the rest of the tempering ingredients.

10. Ground red chillies

Ground red chillies
Ground red chillies

If you don’t like finding big dried red chillies in your food, then ground red chillies are your best friend. Again, only use them if you are tolerant of spicy food and avoid if not. They are completely optional.

You might find a kind of ground red chilli called “Kashmiri mirch”. This is a species of red chilli that is known for its relatively milder taste and beautiful red colour along with a pleasant smell. If you like your food mildly spicy, use this form of ground red chillies.

In Hindi, unimaginatively, it is called Lal mirch powder and in Kannada it is called “menashina (chilli) pudi (powder)”.

If you want your dish quite spicy, add the chilli powder early on in the tempering process. Again, beware of setting off the smoke alarm both in your house and in your chest with incessant coughing. If you don’t want it too spicy, add it at the end, or stir it into the main dish before serving.

Conclusion:

This brings me to the end of my tempering/seasoning de-construction. Hope you have found the information useful and will venture out to acquire some of these spices and stock them in your cupboard for that day when you decide to cook a South Indian dish. In the final follow up to this tempering series, I will list a whole bunch of recipes already on my website and the ingredients involved in tempering/seasoning each of them.

Pronunciations:

arishina = uh+ree+she+nah

haldi = hull + thee

hing = hee + ng

ingu = in + goo

kari = curry

karbevu = cur+bay+vooh

patta = putt+tha

pudi = pu as in put + dee

Lal (meaning red) = lah + l

mirch (meaning chilli) = mir as in miracle + ch as in church

vona (meaning dried) = vo as in vogue + nah

menshinkai (meaning chilli) = men+shin+car+yee

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