India has a large vegetarian population. Vegetables and pulses therefore form a substantial part of the diet. Somewhere in the glorious past, motivated chefs of maharajas and mothers with finicky kids worked on making these dishes simple to cook, yet tasty and palatable.
Enter the Indian version of dressing – better known as tadka, phodani or baghaar.
(I call it as 'dressing' for want of a better equivalent word in English.)
The base for this dressing is oil, extracted from various seeds.
How to use it?
- the dressing is first made and then the veggies or soaked pulses are dunked in and stir fried.
- the vegetables are cooked to the extent required. The dressing is then poured over them.
(Salt, and sometimes sugar, chilli powder are added to the vegetables while cooking.)
It is used to flavor cooked vegetables, pulses as well as raw salads and yogurt based dips.
Let us see how it is prepared.
Heat a little oil in a small wok or thick bottomed pan. Once the oil is really hot, add ½ tsp whole mustard seeds. These will splutter. That shows they are cooked. Switch off the heat. Add ½ tsp of turmeric ( haldi) and a ¼ tsp of asafoetida (hing). The mixture sizzles and emits an aroma that hints of food delight ahead.
Your basic Indian dressing is ready.
The dressing can be varied with addition and deletion of certain spices depending on which dish is to be flavored.
Garlic slices added to it and lightly fried do wonders for leafy vegetables.
Thinly sliced green / red chillies fried in this dressing lend a subtly different flavor and a crispy texture.
Other additives can be chilly powder, fenugreek seeds, cumin, crushed pepper, cloves, cinnamon and the like.
This dressing can also be prepared with ghee or clarified butter. It takes on a distinctive flavor and taste, and hence is used only in certain kinds of dishes. In Maharashtra, a dressing of ghee and cumin seeds is used to flavor fasting food.