Tadka Cubes – Base Masala for Punjabi Cooking (Make Ahead)

Time starved and out of energy at the end of the day? I’m about to introduce you to your new best friend in the kitchen, tadka cubes. The most common message I get on Instagram is, there isn’t enough time to cook classic Punjabi dishes. That’s why I’m always trying to share my best shortcuts with you. (Hello, 3 ingredient korma sauce).

Tadka if you aren’t already familiar with it, is the tempering process that starts every good Punjabi dish. It starts as a simple mix of onions, tomatoes, aromatics, and a few spices. Within 15 minutes though, it’s transformed into a pure flavour booster. Tadka is the foundational layer for your dishes. It’s the masala that will take a basic lentil soup up to dal tadka status.

I’ve gone into a lot of depth and notes on how to get your tadka just right in the video below, and there are many extra tips and trick in this post as well. My number one tip for tadka is to take your time, because slow caramelization is what gives it flavour.

Once you get the hang of it, make a couple of batches of these tadka cubes, and pop them in the freezer for a rainy day. (Or a Thursday night when you have to be at swimming lessons and tutoring at the same time.) I usually make a triple batch (36 cubes), and keep them in the freezer for up to 3 months.

tadka cubes, make ahead tarka

How to Use Tadka Cubes:

  • You can use these tadka cubes directly from frozen, just make sure you put a little ghee or water in the pan and heat them up slowly.
  • If you are making a dal (especially in the slow cooker), you can just drop a couple right into the pot when the dal is about three quarters done.
  • Two cubes is approximately 1/2 a cup of tadka which generally works well for a 4 serving size of dal. For sabzi I usually add 3 cubes for a 4 cup portion of veggies. If you are making a meat dish, you can go up to 1 tadka cube per serving. I like my chicken dishes to have a little extra masala.
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Tadka Cubes (Make Ahead Masala Base)

  • Author: Raj Thandhi
  • Total Time: 35 minutes
  • Yield: 12 cubes 1x


Tadka (known as tempering in English) is the base for all your favourite Indian dishes. It is used in all dal, sabzi, and gravy based dishes like curry chicken. This version freezes well. 



3 tbs ghee
2 tbs cumin seeds (jeera)
2 cups finely chopped onion
2 tbs finely chopped garlic
2 tbs finely chopped ginger
1 green chili chopped (optional)
1.5 cups tomatoes
2 tsp salt (or to taste)
1.5 tbs coriander powder (dhaniya)
1/2 tbs turmeric powder (haldi)
2 tsp red chili powder (or to taste)


  1. Heat ghee on medium high heat, add in cumin seeds and cook for 60 seconds. 
  2. Add onions and cook for 4-5 minutes until they are translucent and fragrant. 
  3. Add ginger, garlic, and fresh green chili (optional). Cook for 90 seconds. 
  4. Add tomatoes and all powdered spices. Cook on medium high heat for 5-7 minutes, until all the moisture has evaporated and the tomatoes are pulling away from the pan. 
  5. Allow the tadka to cool to room temperature and fill ice cube tray
  6. Freeze for 60-90 minutes and then pop out your cubes and store them in a freezer safe bag or container. 


Make sure you purchase an ice cube tray specifically for freezing tadka cubes, don’t mix it with your regular cubes!

  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Cuisine: Indian



  1. Rupinder Kaur
    November 6, 2015 / 6:09 am

    I try my best to avoid LOOOONG sessions in the kitchen so I’ve also adopted batch cooking where I make a big pot of something and freeze portions for use later in the week or month. My new best friends are my slow cooker (perfect for making daal – just throw everything in it, set it and come back 8 hours later to a kitchen smelling like my mom’s…yum!); also my pressure cooker (when you need to make a meal fast, you can do just about anything – daal, chicken curry, vegetables, rice).

  2. April 5, 2017 / 7:13 am

    Batch cooking saves my sanity too! I make ice cube masala but haven’t tried tadka. Great idea!

  3. Smriti Mahajan
    April 6, 2017 / 11:58 pm

    Hi Raj,

    My first comment on your very nice blog, although I have been following you for a while! Being a working mom in India, I quicken up the cooking by chopping batch of onions in the food processor and refrigerate them in a bowl covered with cling film. I also blend 4-6 tomatoes with a 1-1.5 inch piece of beetroot (for the extra red colour) and store it the same way. These two ingredients can then be used in any dishes I intend to prepare at any of the meal times from sandwitches, poha, vermicelli, veg idli and of course tadka for dal or veg as and when i need them. I also keep peeled garlic cloves refrigerated (done in batches of 1-2 whole garlics) and basically just crush them up with a piece of ginger in the small marble mortar and pestle to add into the tadka.

    • April 8, 2017 / 10:49 am

      Thank you for taking the time to comment Smriti! I’m very intrigued by your use of beetroot in the tomatoes, I am going to have to try that. I’m always a bit hesitant with beets because I don’t know what to cook with them, but I love the idea of added colour!

  4. April 9, 2017 / 9:27 am

    Daal chawal is my go-to comfort food as well! I love this idea of freezing ahead of time, I’m gonna have to give it a try!

  5. Darpan sharma
    August 27, 2019 / 1:46 am

    Storing tomoto like this will be a good idea?

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