I've recently had the pleasure of working with an Indian lady on a temporary assignment at my workplace who, apart from being an extraordinarily kind and gentle woman of many other interests, is a vegetarian who regularly cooks traditional Indian meals for her family. Imagine my own delight when she brought in little gifts of her fine food and her many suggestions and observations after discovering my own longstanding fascination with Indian vegetarian cooking!
Although I had already been aware of this aspect of many traditional Indian diets, I was struck by the general taboo against using onions and garlic that she placed on her cooking. This proscription, it was explained to me, is maintained by many Indians for the purpose of avoiding impurities that affect the body's balance and hence spiritual meditation. I am not Hindu of course, but I was not altogether surprised by this explanation after a bit of reflection, for as much as I enjoy the flavors of onions and garlic, there is a quality to them that I feel compelled to avoid for a while after eating too many. And as much as I enjoy eggs and cheese, I similarly feel the need to eat a mostly vegan diet for a few days if I've overindulged.
… Which got me to thinking. I found that my husband was skeptical on the subject, but then I should not have been surprised — he has that typical male aptitude for being internally insensitive, for all his other fine qualities. Still, I decided that there could be no harm in following some Indian sensibilities at least when it comes to Indian food, and resolved that I would make more of an effort to substitute onions and garlic with asafetida as do many Indian vegetarians. A very potent and pungent powder made from the dried resin of the stem and roots of a giant fennel plant that grows in Iran, Afghanistan and the Kashmir region of India, asafetida — also called "hing" — is a staple in many Indian kitchens for its alleged anti-flatulent properties and for the flavors of onion and garlic that it imparts to food when fried quickly in hot oil or ghee. So strong it is that a pinch will do for any recipe, so a tin will last you ages. Every Indian grocery will carry it. I'll still use onions and garlic in other cuisines like Mediterranean where it would be unthinkable to do without, and will continue to use them in my Indian dishes, but Indian dal and vegetable cooking is perfectly suited to using asafetida, and I will continue to adjust recipes accordingly.
As it turned out, I had already planned on making this curried black-eyed pea soup with onions and garlic when the thought came to me, and it was but a matter of moments to make the substitution. A very light, fragrant and colorful soup perfect for lunches or small dinners, I did not miss the onions and garlic at all — in fact, I'm convinced that the asafetida is what made it perfect.
|Black-Eyed Peas in an Indian Curried Soup|
|Recipe by Lisa Turner|
Published on June 24, 2008
Light, fragrant and colorful curried black-eyed pea soup that's simple to make