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.
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.
What to buy: For stronger flavor, buy asafetida resin; for a milder spice that’s easier to use, buy powdered asafetida. Yellow asafetida is milder than brown.
- Yield: 2 to 3 servings
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- Generous pinch of ground asafetida
- 1 1/2 pounds trimmed and quartered mushrooms
- 2 small dried red chile peppers
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 cup crushed tomatoes
- Heat vegetable oil in a large pot and add ground asafetida or a small lump of asafetida resin to the oil and allow it to sizzle and color for a few seconds.
- As soon as the asafetida darkens, add mushrooms, chile peppers, turmeric, tomatoes, and salt to taste.
- Cover, lower the heat, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the liquid has been absorbed.