Common Indian terms and processes

Talimpu (bagaar/ tadka/ tempering)

This is one of those basic processes - worth getting your head around. Like all the terms we use, this one too has different meanings. The word talimpu is a Telugu word and Bagaar or Tadka are Hindi words.

I must admit I just looked these terms up on several sites to make sure… Basically a talimpu or tadka is a process of tempering spices – usually whole spices rather than powders – ie frying them in hot oil in order to get them to release their flavours. From experience, the taste you get from cooking spices in wet stuff is quite different from frying or dry roasting them - it is more of a subtle, muted flavour - doesn’t reach out and delight you. You can do a talimpu at the start of a dish or right at the end when you add it in to the already cooked dish. Most commonly you would do the latter (ie do it at the end, or even, do it again at the end) for things like simple boiled dals. For most things though, you’d do it at the start.

What spices to use in a talimpu? It varies. What order? It also varies, but I think you do need to follow a simple formula for the order in which you put different spices: dry, wet, then powders (or Dept. of Work and Pensions - DWP - as Carol’s husband Steve put it in one cooking class!). Dry first – any seeds which need to crackle go first because they appreciate the pure heat of the hot oil best. You need to time this right – the pan needs to be completely dry before you put the oil in, and the oil needs to be really pretty hot, but not smoking or too hot. The seeds you put in should crackle and pop smartly (otherwise, cumin seeds in particular just sit there getting sodden with oil but never really exploding into flavour) but they shouldn’t be smoky or burn dark. There is nothing you can do about a really burnt talimpu except chuck it and start again. It smells burnt! If you have lots of dry spices, I would put in cumin first, then mustard, then chana dal or urad dal, then dried red chillies. Or, for a meaty dish, the shahjeera (black cumin) first, then cinnamon sticks, cardamom and cloves next. Wet next – anything like karyapak (curry leaves), onions, ginger, garlic, fresh chillies (coriander and mint can be added now or some now and some later for garnishing), or at the end of the wet phase - pastes like ginger garlic paste. Powders last – like turmeric or any chilli powder or coriander powder – because they tend to dry it all up and make it stick. Into this, you add the tamarind or tomato, then the veg or meat or dal….

Kadai (karahi)

Basically I think this is what they meant by balti!  Wikipedia describes it as a steep sided wok, I cannot over emphasise the importance of buying when you can, a large, heavy one. Worth its weight in gold. And along with it, buy yourself a ‘salaki’ – a metal spatula square with rounded corners, or even an entirely round one. You can turn food around in this way which you can’t in a flat bottomed frying pan or with a wooden spoon. It is exactly what is needed for Indian cooking which needs frying of any kind


Karyapak (kari pattha/ curry leaves)

Used a lot in the south. I like to fly back directly from Hyderabad – much to the incomprehension of Anjali who cannot believe that this is more important than stopping over in Delhi to see her - so that I can take my twelve months’ worth of karyapak and freeze it instantly. This year (2018) I am almost out of karyapak and it is near disaster. I bought two packets of like 25 leaves each for £1.39 each packet from Derby Road last week (in November) because I had promised to take them for the joint cooking in Paris at the joint intentions workshop. And today, I decided to try Akram Stores in Portsmouth – they were as grim as ever – and the same packets cost £1.69 each. It was torture. But then I discovered (from Maya Gratier) that in Paris, very near the Gare du Nord, they sell big packets and much cheaper – like several months’ supply for ten quid. I went in there and asked for ten packets. The sullen girl at the counter expressed shock and incomprehension, then grumpily said she only had seven. I took them.


Chopping onions

I would say there are four basic ways to cut onions. In all of them, first halve the onion from top to tail (ie pole to pole, not across the equator):

  1. Slices in semi-circles: Lay the flat side of the half onion down, and start slicing (using your knuckle against the flat of the knife to get the slices thin). I use these for most things, but you absolutely need these for biryani.

  2. Payalu (like the parts of a plait): Lay the flat side down of the half onion, but now start slicing at a an angle from the side, heading towards the centre. So you end up with like about .5 cm or so wedges. This is great for dishes where you want the onions to remain firm or visible. Like upma or some quick dry fried veg or chicken. And great in spinach to have the lightly fried but till white onion contrast with the green.

  3. Diced: Do the slices in semi circles first, then if possible, keeping the sliced onion in one place, turn it and now start chopping the other way. Fine or Thick. Fine is very useful if you want the onions to disappear in the cooking like in a kurma or any dish with gravy (where you do not want to see onions floating around). Fat is good for things like guddukoora (egg khageena).

  4. Ground:  Use a mixer. And it is even better than finely diced for kurmas. Does absorb a lot of oil this way though, when you fry it. And need constant stirring not to burn it.

Cooking Onions

There are many ways of cooking onions, but let's limit them to three here:

1.  You want them to disappear into the sauce or whatever you are cooking. Use chopping style 1, 3 or 4 above. Fry them slowly and on low heat so they don't brown quickly, let them go completely translucent - perhaps leaving them for ten or fifteen minutes - before adding any wet stuff. If you use ground onion, beware, it takes a lot more oil to fry. Now you have two choices: a) you want them to remain pale so that the sauce remains pale not brown. So stop now. b) you want them to brown a bit so that the sauce is a rich brown. Leave them till them brown more.

2. You want them to remain whole and visible and onion like, adding both visually and in texture to the dish. Use chopping style 2 above. 

3. You want them caramelised, fried dark and rich, mainly for sprinkling on top of a cooked or dish, or to include in a marinade, or both - as in biryani. Use chopping style 1 above. Fry in wide frying pan without letting them pile up - or they start steaming rather than frying. Keep stirring around, but keep each bit in contact with the pan so each one browns.

Using tamarind

If at all possible, use the whole tamarind – and better to use the lighter coloured and less tightly packed packets if possible – than tamarind paste. I used to use the tamarind paste but it has a different quality to the taste plus you never really know how much to use – it’s very concentrated. The pieces on the left (in pic 1 below) are from a packet about two years old. Can still be used, but makes for a very dark extract, and not as light and dainty and fresh as the newer lump on the right. Either lump is about enough for a pulusu made for say three large sweet potatoes or two mugs of tuvar dal.

Rinse out the tamarind lightly – hold it under a tap or put in a bowl - and then chuck any floaty crumbly dusty bits. Then leave to soak for a good quarter or half an hour in  clean water (it softens, pic 2 above). Then start squidging it, and watch the water change colour (pic 3 above). Strain the water into the dish, keep the pulp, add more water, squidge more and strain in the water again. Chuck the pulp (or use it instead of washing up liquid to clean tough greasy residues).


Preparing veg drumsticks (munugakayalu)

I had to look up a you tube demo of ow to prepare these! Basically wash them, top and tail them, then cut about three inch lengths, making sure you cut them between the fat bits, ie between rather than through the seeds within. But when you make a cut, let the knife go only 90% of the ay down, not all the way, then you can rip off the cut portion with a bit of the peel. Turn the drumstick and repeat. You will end up with patches of harder peel left and some bald strip. If you removed all the hard peel, it would fall apart in the cooking. So now boil the pieces for about ten minutes (until almost nearly done) and don’t add salt till the end (which apparently stops it falling apart). Now you can add thee pieces to whatever you are cooking and let them cook for longer to absorb the tastes.

tamarind after soaking.jpg
tamarind after squishing.jpg