Wikipedia, devil's dung, stinking gum, asant, and food of the gods. Hmmmm. Sounds like more than a little conflict going on....aaaannd back into my well-worn and comfy happy place for today's spotlight on asafoetida, weird spice from India, known by many names, including hing, and, according to
I actually purchased this item several weeks ago at an Indian spice store. It came in a plastic container like this:
This container is tiny, and I put it away in my spice cupboard. Madhur Jaffrey, in her World of the East Vegetarian Cooking describes asafoetida in this way: "A brown, somewhat smelly resin used in small quantities in Indian cooking partly for its flavor and mostly for its digestive properties..." Okay, it's not somewhat smelly. This stuff stinks. Right through the container. Opening the spice cupboard, this was all I could smell, so I put it down in the basement, as it happened on top of a can of coconut milk. One day I brought up that can of coconut milk, and the smell had penetrated strongly into the metal, just from having the container sitting on it for a week or so.
So...what is this stuff like? Well, here's what it looks like:
Rather like black salt, as a matter of fact, though it's totally different in origin (from a plant in the fennel family rather than a chemical deposit on the side of a mountain), in smell (pungent rather than sulfuric), and use. Interestingly, if you fry it a bit, the taste and smell become quite pleasant and indeed, in a dish like today's dal, pretty much completely disappear. The reason it's used in Indian cooking is that asafoetida is supposed to reduce the growth of indigenous microflora in the gut, and thus reduce flatulence. So where you'll see it called for is in bean dishes. Interesting! I haven't expeimented with it enough yet to judge if it works, but so long as you have a place you can keep it segregated from your other spices, why not try?
Asafoetida is added to the tarka (the mixture of spices fried in oil and added to the cooked beans at the end; the other ingredients in my tarka are shown at the beginning of this post) for dals, but there's no reason it couldn't be used in your everyday bean-boiling water, added to Mexican dishes, and the like.
Here's the finished meal, a regular tarka dal, chappati, and a green bean & pea dish cooked with ginger:
Mmmm. This is comfort food to the very max in my world, including the chilis...