ALL ABOUT ASAFOETIDA
A-sa-foe-ti-da. Did I spell that right?? This essential Ayurvedic ingredient certainly is a mouthful, and not a common word in the Western vocab, but it should be! This pungent spice adds both exciting flavour and powerful medicinal properties to your food, and it plays a central role in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine, as well as various traditional remedies from throughout these regions. It’s about time we got up close and personal with it. Keep reading and let me convince you!
WHAT IS ASAFOETIDA?
Also known as hing (from Hindi), asafoetida is a dried resin obtained from the roots of a South Asian plant that’s a bit like giant fennel, then powdered. You will usually find it in Asian shops and larger supermarkets in a compound form as a yellow powder (pure asafoetida is brown) that includes other ingredients like rice flour and turmeric — if you’re coeliac, be sure to check that the label says “gluten-free.” One of the reasons for this dilution is that pure asafoetida is very potent and, by most accounts, smells pretty dang bad on its own. So bad in fact that one of its nicknames is “devil’s dung.” But don’t be put off because you only ever need a tiny bit of even the diluted form and then it makes for something completely delicious!!!! Besides, the benefits far outweigh the smell, which also mellows during cooking.
WHAT MAKES IT SO GREAT?
Flavour-wise, asafoetida is close to onion and garlic, which makes it a great substitute for those cutting down on these ingredients, which can be difficult to digest. You only need a little bit to add that much-needed flavour boost, so it’s very economical as well. I liken it to a veggie stock cube in a way — used correctly it adds great depth to veggie dishes. Beyond flavour, asafoetida has the very necessary function of making legumes much more digestible, so it’s great to add to any dish that includes beans or lentils as a main ingredient. In some parts of India, especially in some Hindu and Jain households where legumes are the main source of protein, asafoetida is a must. Try a pinch or two for every 250 grams of legumes. Other cultures around the world use various spices, herbs and plants to make beans more digestible, like cumin, bay leaves or kombu.
Asafoetida helps to balance Kapha and Vata, so definitely add it to your cooking if you’ve got an imbalance in either of those Doshas. Among its many benefits, it aids digestion, helps alleviate period pains, relieve congestion and lower blood sugar, as well as being anti-aging and aphrodisiac! It can also help reduce the symptoms of IBS.
HOW CAN I USE IT?
As you can see, just a pinch of asafoetida can make a world of difference to your meal. That’s why I include in many of my recipes — once you get used to it, I’m sure it will become a staple in your store cupboard, too. Try some of these recipes to get you going:
CREOLE BLACK-EYED BEANS AND ‘COLLARDS’ (page 136 in East by West)
COCONUT, SQUASH, LENTIL AND LEEK CURRY WITH RAINBOW CHARD (page 162 in East by West)
TARKA DAL WITH GRATED COURGETTE (page 166 in East by West)
BLACK BEAN SOUP WITH AVOCADO AND LIME (page 169 in East by West)
QUICK GREEN SIMMER SOUP (page 172 in East by West)
SOUTH INDIAN MOONG SAMBAR (page 183 in East by West)
KITCHARI (page 184 in East by West)
VEG MASALA FOR THE BRAIN (page 198 in East by West)
TAMILNADU VEGETABLE AND LENTIL STEW WITH CUCUMBER RAITA (page 201 in East by West)
STILL CURIOUS? HERE’S SOME MORE INFORMATION