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QuestionHi Kurma,

Many good Indian vegetarian recipes include garlic and onions. Is there a rule
of thumb that can be used in substituting asafetida instead for flavor? What
quantity would replace what quantity garlic/onion? Is there another vegetable
that could successfully be substituted for for onions as a filler in terms of texture, in recipes calling for a significant amount (such as a cup) of onions? (Maybe something like eggplant or zucchini?)

Is there a point at which a substitution shouldn't be bothered with, as it would destroy the integrity of the dish?

Also, I've learned that too much asafetida can be unpleasant and ruin a dish.
Is there a a good rule of thumb about what quantity should not be exceeded per
quantity of food? (For reference, I'm using Vandevi brand compound asafetida
powder, which seems by far the most prevalent kind available at the Indian
groceries around here.)

Thanks so much for any guidance you can give me! It's very discouraging, after
putting a lot of time and energy into new dishes, to find them turning out
poorly because no help is available with these kinds of substitutions. Yet its
frustratingly limiting to have to pass by every recipe that calls for a bit of
onion or garlic.

J, Raleigh, NC (USA)

AnswerHello J,
Thanks for your letter.

Firstly let me point out that when I rewrote many classic recipes originally containing garlic and onion, I found that different grades of asafetida had different potencies. So I just tested with, and just use, the yellow Vandevi brand that is sold in yellow plastic containers world wide. Seems like this is the one you use.

In a recipe for 4-6 persons I would substitute 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon asafetida, according to your taste, no matter how much onions or garlic went in the original recipe.

Eggplant and zucchini do not do such a good job as 'filler' substitues for onion. I use finely chopped celery or thin slices of the inner leaves of iceberg lettuce for recipes where raw onion is added. Add asafetida with it and a very similar texture and flavour is produced. In guacamole for instance, the lettuce plus asafetida plus thin slices of chili tastes remarkably like onion has been added.

For cooked dishes where a bulk cooked onion feel is required, I fry very thin slices of fresh fennel bulb with olive oil and asafetida until it cooks down like onion. It even looks and browns (eventually) like onion! It adds a slight anise flavour as well. Called Finocchio or Florence Fennel it is available everywhere in Australia, and I presume wherever Italians are, it should be there in the US too.

You ask 'is there a point at which a substitution shouldn't be bothered with, as it
would destroy the integrity of the dish?' I guess there is, but my experience is that fresh fennel + asafetida seems to go the distance for all cooked onion dishes. Of course fresh fennel is not in season all year round.

You ask if there is a good rule of thumb about what quantity should not be
exceeded per quantity of food? Well it's up to you, but 1 teaspoon per large 6-8 serve recipe seems to be the max. For some that is too strong. I am happy with that much. After then the asafetida gets too invasive.

Hope this helps.

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