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Other Names: Anghuzeh (Farsi); asafétida (Spanish); asafoetida; a-wei (Chinese); aza (Greek); devil’s dung; férule persique or merde du diable (French); haltit or tyib (Arabic); hing (Hindi); mvuje (Swahili); stinkasant or teufelsdreck (German); stinking gum.

General Description: The notorious asafetida is the strong-smelling, even stinking, dried brownish resin extracted from the root of a plant (Ferula assafoetida) that grows wild from the eastern Mediterranean to central Asia. Asafetida gets its name from two languages: assa from the Farsi meaning “resin”, and foetidus, Latin for “stinky” (hence, fetid). Fresh asafetida resin is indeed powerful; it can be unpleasant to the uninitiated but stimulating to its fans.

Stone Age nomad tribes may have used the hollow stems to transport fire between their camps. Two thousand years ago, asafetida was used in Greek and Roman cuisines, and it continued to be used though the early Middle Ages in Europe for dishes like roast mutton before disappearing from European cookery. In central Asia, especially India and Iran, asafetida has remained an important culinary spice and herbal medicine. In India, some people don’t eat onions and garlic for religious reasons, substituting asafetida instead; however, in northern Indian cooking, asafetida is often combined with either garlic or onion. In southern India, asafetida is even more popular and shows up in the Tamil spice mixture sambar podi, which generally seasons vegetables, not meats, because vegetarianism is more prevalent in southern India.

Purchase and Avoid: For stronger flavor, buy asafetida resin; for a milder spice that’s easier to use, buy powdered asafetida. Yellow asafetida is milder than brown.

Storage: Powdered asafetida loses its aroma after about 1 year, but the resin lasts indefinitely.

Note: Asafetida resin is powerful and must be used in tiny amounts (a pea-sized bit will flavor a large pot of food). Always fry the resin quickly in hot oil so that it dissolves and disperses throughout the food, and to transform the flavor to make it more appealing.

Serving Suggestions: Add a pinch of asafetida to the pan when frying onions and garlic for curry. Fry a pinch of asafetida and add to lamb, mushrooms, chickpeas, lentils, split peas, or other legumes.

Food Affinities: Beans, chickpeas, garlic, lamb, lentils, mushroom, onion, split peas, turmeric.

from Quirk Books: