Spice Profile: Asafetida/Hing

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Asafetida a.k.a. Hing, it stinks up your spice cupboard but is transformed with a little bit of cooking. I use hing often in my cooking and even have a special one for Ekadasi, the days I fast from grains, as many commercial powdered hing sold in shops are typically mixed with some sort of flour to make a milder powder. If you haven’t used hing before I highly suggest adding it to your spice cabinet. In my humble opinion, some dishes are just not right without a pinch of asafetida.
Asafetida (Ferula asafetida) is extracted from a plant that is native to Iran. What we use today as hing is the dried gum that is found and extracted from the root of the Ferula plant, a perennial herb. In its natural state, this extract is a hard, gum-ish resin which is quite solid and very strong in smell and taste. Luckily for us, this tasty spice is mostly sold these days (at least outside of India) as a powder which is not quite as strong, having been cut with some type of flour typically, and is much easier to use. Because of the addition of flour to most commercial hing brands, I advise you to fully check your hing ingredients before using it in Ekadasi cooking. Or you could do what I do and just buy a specifically grain free hing and use it only for Ekadasi dishes (don’t worry it lasts ages).
For those who refrain from eating onion and garlic, such as Vaishnavas and Jains, asafetida is a blessing. It somewhat mimics the flavour of leeks when cooked and so is often used in pasta sauces or other pasta dishes. Much Indian cooking relies on the unique flavour of hing, however, like many other good things, too much hing can be counter-productive. If you are just beginning to use hing in your cooking be sure to not over do it as a little goes a long way.
Like many spices, asafetida is believed to have medicinal qualities. In Ayurveda hing is often used as a digestive aid and is also believed to be effective in reducing flatulence. In some countries asafetida is rubbed on the belly to aid digestion.
Hing is a great spice to add to lentils, dahls, vegetable dishes, and also sometimes rice, typically fried in ghee. I also use it in some vegetable soups fried in olive oil to bring out the flavour nicely. I have many friends that like to use it in tomato sauces for spaghetti and I totally use it in pasta dishes such as manicotti, stuffed shells etc.
I make an extra yummy ginger asafetida fried chickpea dish that I learned from a dear friend, which is just the thing to pair with steamed veggies and rice on my quick cook days. Simply take a can of chickpeas, or boil your own, wash and strain them. In frying pan heat some oil or ghee. Add a generous amount of peeled grated ginger and fry a little. Add a bit of hing and cook. Now mix in the drained chickpeas and fry a bit until a little brownish in places. Now add a couple squirts of Braggs or other liquid amino acids and toss until all the chickpeas are fully coated. Deeeelicious!
If you haven’t already, give hing a chance, its good stuff.

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