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Raw spices are like shy friends: It takes a little effort to draw them out of their shell to see their true colors. Toasting your spices in dry heat is a good start (a friendly wave, if you will), but frying those spices in oil or ghee is the ultimate ice-breaker. Also known as chhonk, tadka, vaghar, or tempering, among other names, blooming spices in fat is a South Asian cooking technique that brings the complex aromas to their fullest expression. This is because many of the flavor compounds found in spices are fat-soluble and because fat coats the tongue, bringing those aromatic compounds into contact with your taste buds for a longer period of time, like a powerful hug.
Blooming spices turn whole seeds crunchy and make ground spices toasty, and on top of all that, it also leaves you with an infused oil that you can use to add a flavor boost to nearly anything, from popcorn to boiled potatoes to a ripe avocado. Priya Krishna’s khichdi is finished dramatically, doused in cumin and chiles sizzled in ghee.
To do it, start by heating 2 Tbsp. ghee or oil over medium-low heat. Then add ground spices or any you’d happily eat whole (like cumin/mustard/crushed coriander seeds), as well as other aromatics like sliced garlic, curry leaves, bay leaves, dried chiles, or lemon peel, and cook until the spices sputter and smell—this will be only a matter of minutes, so stay close by. Pour over roasted/sautéed/steamed veg, use it to marinate beans or lentils, stir it into yogurt for a savory dip, or make it the base of your vinaigrette.