x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Essential Indian spice is smelly, but sublime

Madhur Jaffrey says there is one spice she cannot do without in her curry recipes - Asafoetida.

Madhur Jaffrey dispenses with many spices in her Curry Easy recipes, but she cannot do without one from a three-metre tall fennel plant, which is little known outside India - and smells disgusting.

Asafoetida is made from resin taken from the root of a plant that grows in Iran. A popular seasoning in ancient Greece and Rome, it has long since fallen out of use in European kitchens.

In Indian cooking, however, it remains a key ingredient. You may have eaten it hundreds of times in curries without having heard of it.

The spice is known as hing in India - though its foul smell has earned it names such as devil's dung and stinking gum.

It has to be stored in an airtight container to avoid tainting other food in the larder. Even then, a little of the pungent aroma can seep out. The smell disappears during cooking.

Jaffrey says that asafoetida "is one of the seasonings that I consider essential as it goes to the heart of Indian cooking".

So why does she regard it as so important? "All spices in India serve a dual purpose," she said. "They contribute flavour and they have medicinal value. The flavour of asafoetida is like that of truffles or garlic. It adds depth, a particularly Indian depth found nowhere else.

"In terms of medicinal value, asafoetida is a digestive. No beans or split peas or certain vegetables are cooked without it."

Asafoetida is available at Lulu hypermarkets, Co-ops and other outlets in the UAE for around Dh6 per 100g.

* Colin Simpson