ubiquitous asafetida, sometimes spelt asafoetida, finds itself
in a great number of Kurma's recipes. What on earth is it? Read
The aromatic resin from the root of the giant fennel, Ferula
asafoetida. Asafetida, also known as hing, is extracted from
the stems of these giant perennial plants that grow wild in Central
Asia, especially Northern Iran and Afghanistan. In the spring, when
the plant is about to bloom, the stems and roots are cut. Milky
resin exudes from the cut surface and is scraped off. The gummy
resin is sun-dried into a solid mass that is then sold in solid,
wax-like pieces. Most raw asafetida is sent to India for further
processing and sale, mostly in the convenient powdered form.
Asafetida has been held in great esteem among indigenous medicines
from the earliest times in India. It is highly reputed as a drug
to expel wind from the stomach and to counteract spasmodic disorders.
Asafetida is also a digestive agent and is used, among other things,
for alleviating toothache and as an antidote for opium.
In the days of Moghul aristocracy in India, the court singers of
Agra and Delhi would wake before dawn and eat a spoonful of asafetida
with butter to enhance their singing voice before practicing on
the banks of the Yamuna river.
Asafetida is also excellent for settling flatulence and is prescribed
by Indian herbalists for respiratory problems like whooping cough
Due to the presence of sulphur compounds, raw asafetida has a distinctive
pungent aroma. To cook with asafetida, small quantities of the powdered
form are sauteed in a little slightly hot oil or ghee, before adding
to a variety of savoury dishes, adding a delicious flavour reminiscent
of a mixture of shallots and garlic.
Kurma always uses the mild yellow asafetida powder and not the
grey variety. All Kurma's recipes calling for asafetida were tested
using this yellow variety. If using other types, reduce the quantity
to between a quarter and a half of the suggested amount. Asafetida
is available at Indian grocers and specialty stores.
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