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This is a cooking term I've only seen used in Indian restaurants, and have never known quite what it means.

"Rice tempered with fenugreek seeds," etc.

Could someone in-the-know fill in someone who isn't? I just used the term in a letter before realizing that I have no idea what it means; I meant to say "toned done the (somewhat brash) flavor of," but I don't think this is correct - it seems to be more of an actual technical term.

(Yes, I could Google it, but I figure if I don't know, then some others won't either.)

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Perhaps you could insert the word "introduced" as a modifier vs. tempered in this instance. I would assume it meant that fenugreek seeds were sprinkled into the rice.

i generally see the term used when a cooler substance is added to a hot substance, usually liquid. For example, when introducing eggs to hot cream, or sour cream to a hot stew, you first introduce a little bit of the hot liquid to the cooler liquid to elevate its temperature without cooking or curdling. Then the "tempered" cooler substance is able to be incorporated into the hot.

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Perhaps you could insert the word "introduced" as a modifier vs. tempered in this instance. I would assume it meant that fenugreek seeds were sprinkled into the rice.

i generally see the term used when a cooler substance is added to a hot substance, usually liquid. For example, when introducing eggs to hot cream, or sour cream to a hot stew, you first introduce a little bit of the hot liquid to the cooler liquid to elevate its temperature without cooking or curdling. Then the "tempered" cooler substance is able to be incorporated into the hot.

A-*ha*, so "temper"ing relates to "temper"ature rather than flavor or texture - the plott thickens.

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Don:  It's a technique used in Indian cooking, usually at the point that you add a tadka to whatever it is you're making.

Tadka translates as "tempering." It is a method widely used in Indian cuisine, in which whole or ground spices are heated in hot oil or ghee and the mixture is added to a dish. Hot fat has an amazing ability to extract and retain the essence, aroma and flavor of spices and herbs and then carry this essence with it when it is added to a dish. American cooks are familiar with tempering as a way of heating and cooling chocolate. No relation.

 
This NPR article, which includes the quote above, explains it in more detail.

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This is one of my favorite South Asian cooking techniques. It makes cooking South Asian food fun and dramatic and the smells make you the envy of the neighborhood (or you get shunned, depending on where you live). Whole spices are fried in hot fat (oil or ghee) either before adding a wet masala at the beginning of cooking a dish, or the hot fat and spices are poured into a finished dish (usually dahl) and then covered to trap the aromas. I really enjoy using the garam spices at the beginning of a meat dish. Garam spices are the "hot" spices, in that they are believed to increase body heat, but some are considered "sweet" spices in western cooking. The smell of whole cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, bay leaves, black cardamom etc. frying in hot fat is an amazing botanical aroma. South Indian cooks often use black mustard seeds that pop in the oil and take on a lovely nutty taste, and sometimes urad dahl and channa dahl are used as spices, as well as the ubiquitous whole cumin seeds and fresh curry leaves that pop and sizzle and add a distinctive taste. Speaking of distinctive tastes, hing (asafoetida) either lump or powdered, is a resin that has an onion like flavor and a disreputable odor that is often used with this technique. In the East, Bengalis fry a whole spice mixture call panch phoran (5 spice) that consists of equal parts mustard seeds (or radhuni if you can get it), cumin seeds, fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds, and nigella seeds. Here's how the technique is described in one of my many Indian cookbooks:

"Baghar, Tarhka, Chhonkna or Tempering: Hot oil has an extraordinary ability to extract and retain the essence, aroma and flavour of spices and herbs. This process is performed either at the beginning of cooking a dish (the whole garam masala is tempered before the rice is fried, when making Pulao) or after (cumin and asafoetida are tempered and then added to the lentil, when making dal). The salient features of baghar:

* The ghee or the oil is brought to smoking point and then the heat is reduced

* No water is ever added

* The ingredients are usually added in rapid succession, rarely together.

* The crackling of the spice or spices or a change in their colour indicates that the process is complete, unless fresh herbs and vegetables are also being used.

* The prepared tempering is poured sizzling hot over the cooked dish, except when the dish requires pre-tempering"

Now I will go read the NPR article. From the quote it sounds like they also have this cookbook.

ETA The NPR article is by local food writer (and DR member?) Monica Bhide and is very good.

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This NPR article, which includes the quote above, explains it in more detail.

Look who the author is. :)

Ironically, I *almost* went to my copy of Modern Spice (which I purchased at this event) instead of posting, to see if I could find the definition in there.

Hot fat has an amazing ability to extract and retain the essence, aroma and flavor of spices and herbs 

Hot oil has an extraordinary ability to extract and retain the essence, aroma and flavour of spices and herbs. 

From the quote it sounds like they also have this cookbook.

:o

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i love this technique and use it often. interestingly, i heard the reason that it works so well is that most of the flavoring components in spices are oils and oil soluble, but not water soluble, so you need the fat to really get the flavor out. (and in the case of whole spices, it saves you the trouble of crushing them). i always temper at the beginning (i also think it makes a huge difference in the taste of ground tumeric, makes it less earthy and chalky) but i only do the final flourish of tempered spices/oil when cooking for company.

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