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Gloria Robertson Asks...
             Kenna Therrien
             Sara Waterson
             Martin Watts
             Ray Martin
             Astrid Bear
             Mary S.

Gloria Robertson Asks...
Himself found a small bottle of this on the shelves of a supermarket in Dubai. I believe our dear Stephen used it.
The label reads:
"Strong, bitter taste and a pungent aroma which Quickly changes during cooking. This spice comes from selected 'Ferula' plants and is used in tiny Quantities. Ingredients: Asafoetida, gum arabic, ground rice and tumeric".
I wonder in what dishes it is used today?

Kenna Therrien
I think he used it for the germ-frightening stink, didn't he? In my herbal it's recommended as an anti-flatulent. Stink fighting stink, I guess. I have a container of it that I use for cooking, and I can tell you that I like to keep my nose as far from it as possible when measuring out the tiny little pinch that goes in the lentils. Blech! Somehow it's transformed in the cooking to a pleasantly sharp spicy tang. It's popular among Indian castes who are forbidden to eat garlic.

Sara Waterson
The mix you describe would be for a 'curry' flavour. Asafoetida is still used in many dishes from the sub-continent; in parts of Muslim India or Pakistan is also called "hing". It's usually sold ground, on its own or as here with other spices.
It's especially used in dal (lentils, peas, etc.) as it is thought to aid digestion (i.e. lessen 'wind').
Turmeric does have a slightly bitter taste and gives a yellow colour to dishes.

Martin Watts
From Gernot Katzer's Spice Pages:
"When I first heard of asafetida's culinary use, I suspected that the person claiming that asafetida was a spice in Indian cooking was pulling my leg (I knew the smell from previous experience). Nevertheless, it's true, and today, asafetida is one of my favourite spices. [..]
Some very picturesque names (German Teufelsdreck, French merde du diable, Swedish dyvelsträck and Turkish seytan tersi), all meaning more or less politely dung of devil, exemplify the small enthusiasm this unusual spice meets outside the regions of its traditional usage."

Ray Martin
Martin is right, some Indian dishes use asafetida. According to the wonderful Madhur Jaffrey "only Kashmiri Hindus cook with asafetida. And they do not use garlic. Kashmiri Muslims cook with garlic and frown upon asafetida".
Apparently it can cure indigestion in horses.

Astrid Bear
Speaking of fetid things (and how often can one say that truthfully?), I managed to find some asafetida at the Tenzing Momo spice shop in Pike Place market. It's called for in some Indian dishes, and I think Dil had some in a little pouch around her neck. Pungent ain't innit! I keep it in the plastic bag it came in, tightly sealed in a glass jar, but it is just the thing sometimes. Here's a link to a recipe that calls for it, and incredible cauliflower dish that Madhur Jaffrey calls Everyday Cauliflower:
In The Kitchen With Madhur Jaffrey : NPR
Everyday Cauliflower ('Roz ki Gobi'), November 22, 2006
This is one of the ways our cauliflower was often cooked at home. I use a 2-pound head of cauliflower that yields about 7 cups of florets. When cutting the florets, make sure that each piece has a head about 1 1/2 inches wide, has a stem, and is about the same in length, or longer, as the width at the top.
6 tablespoons olive or peanut oil
7 cups delicate cauliflower florets
1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground amchoor (green mango powder) or 1 tablespoon lemon juice
Generous pinch of ground asafetida
1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
One 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into very fine julienne strips (cut into very thin slices first, then stack the slices and cut into fine strips)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh green chilies (optional)
Pour the oil into a large frying pan and set over medium heat. When it is hot, put in all the cauliflower florets. Stir and fry them until they turn reddish in spots. Remove them with a slotted spoon and spread them out on a platter lined with paper towels.
Turn off the heat under the frying pan and remove all but 1 tablespoon of the oil.
Put the drained florets in a bowl. Sprinkle the salt, turmeric, cayenne, coriander, and amchoor over the top. Toss gently to mix. Taste for balance of flavors, making adjustments if needed.
Set the frying pan with its 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat. When it is hot, put in the asafetida, and a second later the cumin seeds. Let the seeds sizzle for 10 seconds. Now put in all the ginger shreds and stir for 30 seconds. Put in all the cauliflower and stir gently to mix. Add a generous sprinkling of water, cover, and turn the heat down very, very low. Cook for about 1-2 minutes, or until the cauliflower is just done and all the flavors have blended. Sprinkle the cilantro and green chilies, if desired, over the top. Toss and serve.
Courtesy of Madhur Jaffrey. Reprinted from Climbing the Mango Trees, published by Alfred A. Knopf.

Mary S.
Our ancestors hung an "asafoetida bag" around their necks to ward off infection. Doubtless it accomplished this, by keeping other people far away!
You will find an account of the practice in Booth Tarkington's hilarious novel of childhood, Penrod, or perhaps it is in one of the two sequels. The story takes place sometime in the very early 20th century, but Penrod's mother is described as "old-fashioned" in this respect.