Monday, November 9, 2015

No Onions? No Garlic? Asafetida is the Answer

As someone known to strangers as a "Vegetable Cooking Person"  I occasionally get the question, "What do I do if I'm allergic to onions?"

I admit, my first reaction was, "Really? That's terrible!"
And after getting over the fact that my tiny little life would be so much the poorer with out French Onion Soup
Fine Cooking is a great place for a classic
FOS Recipe

and Onion Rings,

it really comes down to looking at the staggering number recipes that begin with something along the lines of massacring 2 cups of onions and then cooking them down to some darker, sweeter, pulpier version of themselves.
What does one do if eating onions isn't on?
Not at all.
Not even a little bit.

There is the "just use garlic" approach, tedious, and some people with onion problems can't do garlic, or much garlic.  And it's just not the same.

There is the "I'll just do without" approach.  But that makes me sad.

Then there is the "ask around" approach.  Is there any culture where onions and garlic are a "no-no"?  The answer (as it almost always is with ANY food restriction), is yes.  The Jain religion/community in India is built around the idea of not-harming.  Beyond vegetarianism, this leads to filtering water, not eating any food that shows evidence of spoilage and not drinking fermented beverages, all in the name impacting the fewest living organisms possible.
This also means root vegetables - anything that could be sprouted to start another plant is generally avoided.

Yet the flavor or onion/garlic is still to be found in Jain cooking.  The answer is hing - better known as asafetida.  Hing/asafetida is the dried resin from the stalk of a member of the carrot family.
No allium sp. in sight.  Perfectly fine for the 
"No Onion" crew.

A warning though.  I won't lie - if there were ever a substance that lived up to its name - it is this stuff.  Fetid is RIGHT!  In its ground, uncooked form, it smells like dirty socks steeped in onion juice.  I keep the closed container in sealed glass jar in my pantry.
It's one other benefit that makes it worth the trouble?  It is an anti-flatulant.  That is, you will frequently find it in bean/legume based Indian dishes, as it helps with the digestion of the long-chain starches that otherwise feed our micro-fauna.  Those tiny buggers digest what we don't, and send the gas bubbles along the way as a "thank-you".

So, I use it.  Admittedly, in Indian cooking, almost exclusively.

More recently - I have ventured beyond that - I have finally tried it as a way to give that needed oniony-garlicky hit to foods that were being fed to members of the "no onions" crowd.
I finally got around to trying asafetida as an onion substitute.

The first thing the consider is that asafetida is STRONG.  A little goes a long way.  Where a recipe might call for 1 small onion + 4 cloves of garlic, a similar "no onion/no garlic" recipe would use 1/4 to 1/2 tsp asafetida.   As a new user - I'd start small, and add more the next time.

Despite the smell at the start, it has a wonderful, mellow flavor once cooked and incorporated.

Also, this is not a "just sprinkle it on at the end" spice.  It MUST be cooked.  Heated in hot oil for 5 - 10 seconds and then simmered with the food.  This makes it a perfect onion substitute for soups, stews, and spaghetti sauces.

In sautes - quick cooking things, add it to the oil before you add anything else (or add it with the dry spices) to give it a chance for a quick, up front flash cook, and then time to mellow out in the end of the cooking.

Good Luck!

And two recipes to get started in your asafetida journey.  The first is typically Indian -
Hing Jerra Aloo - a tasty potato side dish

The second - and just in time for the fall, is a version of my Winter Squash Soup - but with asafetida in place of the onions.
Be bold - be adventurous - but stay away from the onions.

Winter Squash Soup
No onions - Yes asafetida
Many kinds of squash work well here - butternut, kabocha, delicata, kuru, turban, hubbard, ballet - anything with a dense, "sweet potato" type texture.  
Squash with a stringy texture - acorn, speghetti, dumpling, pie pumpkin, carnival - will give a watery soup with an odd texture.  
Not sure what I'm talking about?  Check out the Guide to Winter Squash at Epicurious.

winter squash - about 2.5 - 3 lbs (or 2 lbs pumpkin/squash puree)
1 Tbs oil + enough to finish roasting the squash
4 C broth (chicken or vegetable)
3 Tbs minced fresh ginger
1/2 tsp asafetida
2 tsp salt + more to taste
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp cardomom
1 tsp cinnamon
2 Tbs honey
 2 C milk/dairy alt./more broth

hot pads/oven mitts
soup pot (8 qt/2 gallon/8 liters)
cutting board
large metal spoon
baking sheet
blender/immersion blender or food mill or potato masher
long (wooden) spoon
ladle & bowls for serving

Preheat the oven to 425˚F.  Rinse your whole squash

With a small knife/steak knife, stab each squash about 8 times around the stem to allow steam to escape.  Bake the whole squash for about 30 minutes.
Remove the squash from the oven, place on the cutting board, and let it cool for about 5 minutes.  When it is cool enough to handle, use your large knife to cut it in half.  This is be much easier than trying to cut open a raw winter squash.
Mine ended up in thirds.
Use the metal spoon to scoop our the seeds and stringy stuff from the center (Compost!)
Cut into wedges that are about 1/6 or 1/8 of the squash.  Rub the surfaces with a little oil, place on your baking sheet and return to the oven until the flesh can be mash with a fork.  About 35 - 40 minutes.  (If you are using delicata squash, it is possible it will be done after the 1st baking.)
Go ahead and mix together all your spices in a small bowl (ginger, salt, asafetida, cayenne, cardamom, and cinnamon) while waiting for the squash to finish baking.
I lined my baking sheet with parchment paper because
I am lazy and hate scrubbing pans.
When the squash is cooked, remove it from the oven and let it cool.  Scoop the flesh from the skin, and mash it roughly with a fork.  (If you were working with too much squash, set aside the extra for later, and stick with your ~2lbs).  For extra squash ideas check out Pumpkin Food - Breakfast and Lunch.

Heat the soup pot with the 1 Tbs of oil over medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes.  Place a small piece of ginger in the oil.  When it is sizzling and fragrant, add all the spices and stir vigorously for 5-10 seconds.  Your kitchen should be fragrant.
Add all 2C of broth to cool the spices and keep them from burning.  Add the roughly mashed squash.  Stir and smash the squash and broth together to combine it.  Keep adding broth as it incorporates, and the honey.  When all the broth is in, and everything is roughly combined and warm, blend the soup to make it smooth.  Use your blender - in batches, or a stick blender, food mill or potato masher.  Use the last 2C of liquid to help make everything smooth.
Return the blended soul to the pot, bring it up to a simmer for 15 minutes, to let the flavors mellow and combine.
Taste your soup.  Adjust the amounts of salt, cayenne and honey to your liking.  (Don't add any more asafetida at this point, it won't mellow and will take over!)

When it tastes good to you - serve it up!   Finish with a stir of sour cream or a drizzle of a fruity olive oil.  Top with some roasted pumpkin seeds if you are feeling adventurous.

1 comment:

Chirag Dua said...

Yummy Onion rings, So WOW this recipe looks so delicious to have thanks for sharing Ingredients and Method of Cooking.. :)
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