Asafoetida

Tastes much better than what its unpleasant smell suggests. Once cooked the flavor is a blend of garlic and onions. Used in Indian cuisine, mainly in vegetarian curries or lentil dishes.

Asafoetida

(ferula asafoetidae)
UMBELLIFERAE

 

Asafoetida or asafetida is also known as hing, devil's dung or stinking gum. Truly, the aroma is much worse than the flavor.

Curious Facts about asafoetida

Although asaofetida has gone out of fashion in western cooking, it was very much appreciated in the past. It combines extremely well with other spices. The Persians considered It was food for the Gods. The ancient Romans depicted asafoetida in coins. It is still very much present in Indian cooking and other parts of western Asia, where it grows wild.

How to Identify asafoetida

Asafoetida comes from the milky sap of a giant fennel plant. The sap from the roots and stem hardens into a resin like substance. This resin darkens with age to a deep brown. The most notable trait of asafoetida is, as its name hints, the disgusting smell, very much like rotten garlic. Nevertheless, the stench disappears in cooking, leaving behind a delicate onion and garlic flavor.

The plants grow up to 10 feet. They have soft centered very fine stems, toothed leaves and clusters of yellow flowers in the summer. All the plant, all its parts, has an unpleasant odor.

How to use and store asafoetida

It is available in blocks, of wax-like texture, pieces, or powdered. The blocks are the purest, but powder is the most convenient to avoid its distasteful smell. Keep it in an airtight, firmly closed, container to prevent the stong smell permeating everytthing.

In this case, a little goes a long, long way. Use it in minute amounts, as they do in Indian cooking, particularly vegetarian cooking. It imparts a delicate flavor to fresh and salted fish dishes. As said, it is a very powerful seasoning: use only a pinch or a sliver, the tiniest quantities, at one time. Otherwise, it has a bitter aftertaste. asafoetida is extremely unpleasant if tasted on its own.

How to grow asafoetida

It grows wild in most of Western Asia. The plant thrives, also, in continental climates where the temperature goes to extremes.

Cooking with asafoetida

I used to buy "greens" in the market during the years we lived in England. To tell the truth, I never knew what they were. The texture was similar to green chard but the taste was bitter, more like kale. Spring greens were tender, and not as bitter as the "greens" available the rest of the year. This Indian recipe helped to make greens more palatable when garlic was out of stock. The flavor asafoetida imparts was particularly suited to those leaves. I have never come across the same "greens" once we moved out of England; not that I have really looked for them, having so many other options. I have cooked either green chard or spinach this way, and both come out quite well.

INDIAN GREENS

2 1/2lb Swiss chard leaves, washed and coarsely chopped. The white stems are optional, if used wash and cut not too big.
1/2tsp asafoetida
¼ cup olive oil
red chilli and salt to taste

  1. Heat the oil in a pan, just medium heat. Add the chilli and asafoetida. Cook for a minute.
  2. If using the stems, add them now to the pan and cook for two or three minutes.
  3. Add the leaves and about 1/2cup of water. Stir. Cover and let it cook for ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Cook for another five minutes without the lid to let the water evaporate.
  4. Add salt and serve warm.

NOTE - Use ghee or neutral oil for a more authentic Indian flavor. The hot peppers are optional. If using Indian chillies, use 2 or 3, or to taste. The Spanish chillies I keep in my pantry are so hot that a little strip does the trick.

If you cannot find it, substitute asafoetida with two cloves of garlic, peeled and slivered. Substitute ¼ tsp asafoetida powder with ¼ garlic powder + ¼ onion powder.

Cooking your way with asafoetida

It can be used to enhance the flavor of fish, and vegetable dishes. Add it to soup and sauces, or vegetarian recipes like an Indian dahl, a puree made of lentils, chickpeas, or split peas, or spicy potato dishes. Goes well with vegetables such as aubergines. I is an essential spice if you are going to try your hand at Indian cuisine.

ferula asafoetidae: asafoetida - French asafoetida - German teufelsdreck - Italian asafoetida - Spanish asafétida.