What is Asafetida and Where Can I Find It?

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I have a recipe that calls for asafetida. What is it and where can I find it?

Asafetida (also asafoedita) is a spice associated with cuisines of the southern and western regions of India. The pungent spice packs a strong (to some offensive) odor, smelling like an onion or garlic beginning to rot.

The odor comes from the sulfur compounds found in the resin of a Ferula species of giant fennel whose roots and stems are processed for the spice. No wonder it is also referred to as Devil's dung and stinking gum!

The stinky odor dissipates when asafetida is cooked. Not only valued as a culinary spice but also for its health benefits, derivatives of the resin can be found in both Chinese and Indian herbal medicines. Asafetida is used to stimulate the appetite, improve digestion, and reduce flatulence. Ditch the Beano.

Culinary references for asafetida date back to the Romans; they prized the resin form of the spice to flavor nuts, sauces and even wine. Currently is reportedly one of the spices used to flavor Worcestershire sauce.

Use asafetida as a substitute for onions and garlic. It is a popular ingredient in vegetarian dishes, especially dishes with lentils, beans, and leafy greens. Indian cooks keep it in their popu or masala dabba (spice box) ready to mix into spice blends or add to curries, chutneys, rasams, dahls and as a pickling spice.

A pinch of asafetida is all you need in most recipes. It is best used added to hot oil at the beginning of a dishes preparation. Store asafetida in a tightly sealed container, (we place our container in a sealed bag,) to prevent its odor from seeping into other spices stored close by.

You will find asafetida in its powdered form at Indian, Middle Eastern and Asian markets. Try Lee Lee's or New India Bazaar.

Next up, a recipe for Chana Masala, chickpeas in a spicy hot tomato sauce, . Serve this dish as a side with fish or chicken or on top of brown basmati rice along with a sautéed leafy green vegetable.

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