Asafoetida doesn’t have a very pleasant nick name, Devil’s Dung, but it’s quite appropriate as it has a noxious odour, which breaks down when heated in either water or oil. The name comes from Farsi, aza meaning resin and Latin foetida meaning foetid or stinking. It is a tall perennial herb which can grow to around 7 feet tall, and its leaves can be used in cooking as well as the gummy substance from the roots. We normally buy asafoetida in powder form, but you can also buy it in the form of a solid resin, especially in north Africa and the Middle East, and in this form it resembles a piece of dung. The plant, Ferula asafoetida, in the Umbelliferaceae family is related to fennel and the carrot.
It has carrot-like roots and the gum is extracted from these. One plant can give about a kilo of resinous gum. It has mainly resisted attempts to cultivate it, and grown in eastern Iran and Afghanistan where it is used in medicine but not in cookery. When taken from the soil and exposed to the air, it solidifies.
It’s popular among Jains and some Hindus who do not eat onion and garlic, as it tastes a little like leeks when added to vegetable dishes. It’s most often used with chickpeas, lentils and dried beans as it eliminates flatulence, and aids digestion. It was introduced to Europe by the Romans, who had at first used a herb called Cyrene silphium, which only grew in Libya. However, this became extinct in 1 AD. Luckily for the Romans, Alexander the Great had already found asafoetida when he marched through the Persian Empire, in the third century BC. When silphium became extinct, the Romans substituted asafoetida in their recipes.
In mediaeval Europe it was used to tenderize and preserve meat.
Because of its foul smell, it’s a natural pesticide but Dioscorides used it as a cure-all in 1 AD. He used it to cure baldness, toothache and liver diseases among other things. In the 11th century Ibn Sina, the famous Arab physician used it as an aid for digestion, and it is still used in this way. In Ayurvedic medicine, it’s used to stimulate the appetite, and aid digestion. Recent studies have shown that asafoetida roots have anti viral properties which could be effective in the treatment of swine flu. It can also help lower blood pressure levels.
It might seem expensive, but you only use a pinch at a time, so it lasts for quite a while, and there’s no substitute for it. So if you want the authentic taste of Indian and Pakistani dishes, you should invest in some. Use it with lentils, beans and chickpeas, it gives them a taste boost.

1 tbsp oil
¾ tsp black mustard seeds
½ tsp Nigella sativa or black seed
3 curry leaves, slightly torn
pinch asafoetida powder
4 green chillies split from top to bottom and seeds removed
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 inch ginger root, pounded to a pulp
5 medium sized ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp red chilli powder
½ tsp turmeric
2 tsp sugar
salt to taste
fresh coriander leaves, shredded to garnish

Heat the oil and fry the seeds, leaves and asafoetida until the seeds start to sputter. Add the garlic and ginger and fry for 2 mins. Now add the tomatoes and cook over a low heat for 10 to 15 mins, until the tomatoes are mushy.
Add turmeric, chilli powder and sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves.
Remove from the heat and add the salt, stir well and serve hot. If there’s any left, it will keep in the fridge for 3 to 4 days in an airtight container. You can eat it hot or cold.
Serve as a side dish garnished with the fresh coriander leaves.
Use as a dip with naan, chapattis or other breads. You can also serve it hot to accompany any meat dishes.
This has Taste and is a Treat.

No comments:

Post a Comment