A powdered gum resin that gives many Indian dishes a unique garlicky onion flavour, asafetida is either loved or loathed. Some call it the food of the gods, others say it's devil's dung. One thing's certain: a little goes a long way. Performance artist/chef Gordon W clued me into this indispensable stuff years ago, and the small plastic container of asafetida I bought back then at House of Spice (190 Augusta, 416-593-9724) has hardly been dented. You can also find the super spice at East Asian grocers like K.C. Indo Foods (624 Bloor West, 416-516-9040) and Kohinoor (1438 Gerrard East, 416-461-4432).
Here's a veggie-friendly recipe for Potatoes with Asafetida and Cumin. Any leftovers can be puréed to make a lovely cold soup perfect for a hot summer day. Wash, peel and quarter 5 medium-sized potatoes, then place them in a bowl covered with water. In a heavy, large pot, heat 2 tbsp canola oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add a pinch of asafetida (about 1/8 tsp) and let it sizzle for 5 seconds, followed by 1/4 tsp cumin seeds (letting them brown another 5 to 10 seconds) and finally 2 crumbled, dried red chilies, which will quickly change colour. Drain the potatoes and add them along with 1/4 tsp turmeric right after the chilies have darkened. Fry the potatoes for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 2 cups of water to the pot, as well as 10 ounces of canned crushed tomatoes and 1 tsp sea salt. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer over very low heat for an hour. Serve with toasted pita bread and a fresh coriander garnish.