One of the challenges of selling spices is the reality that most folks will never grind them and therefore never experience the superior flavor of fresh-ground spices. The other side of this is how often people don’t consider using whole spices, well, whole. We accept whole caraway in bread, whole fennel in sausage, and whole anise in cookies, but don’t consider whole spices much beyond that.
The tarka technique is a good way to play with whole spices. It’s nothing more than frying some whole seed spices in oil (or ghee) to release their flavor and then adding the contents of the sauté pan to what you’re cooking.
- 2 pounds fresh tomatoes (or canned equivalent)
- 1 head of cauliflower cut into florets
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 1 1/2 teaspoons whole cumin
- 1 tablespoon black (or brown) mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon caraway seed
- 1 tablespoon pequin chilies (Feel free to add more or less to taste or use any other small dried red chili.)
- 2 tablespoons oil or ghee
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- Salt to taste
Combine tomatoes, cauliflower, and coriander in a pot and begin heating. Meanwhile heat oil in a small skillet. Once the oil is moderately hot, add the cumin, caraway, mustard, and chilies. Heat them gently until they become fragrant and the mustard seeds begin to pop. Add the spices and oil to the tomato mixture and stir. Cook until the cauliflower is tender. Taste and add salt and the garam masala. Cook 10 more minutes. Serve over rice—or not.