I’ve always thought this was one of the worst-looking food dishes I’ve ever seen. Brownish-red slop with lumps in it. Totally awful. Then I tasted it.
That was, oh, 5 years ago, give or take. I’ve realized since then that your perception of food’s appearance is highly dependent on your experience with and enjoyment of the flavour. Now I see the same slop and think about how marvelous the deeper red colours are, how rich it looks with cream floating on the top. I understand now how black gram’s luxuriously creamy texture is one of the finest selling points of this dish.
Alternate names: asafetida, devil’s dung, stinking gum, hing (India)
The first thing you need to know about asafoetida is that foetida is Latin for “stinking” or “ill-smelling” (the word “fetid” comes from the Latin). Asafoetida stinks. Like sulphur. It’s not pleasant.
About 3 years ago, I purchased a large bag of dried chana dal from Loblaws, having no idea what chana dal was, or what to do with it. What I did know was “lentils are healthy and I should be eating some lentils”. So I took this bag home and tried out a recipe from an Indian cookbook I had.
It turned out mostly terrible. Not only have I learned that the cookbook in question routinely calls for 50% of the salt needed to make anything taste good, the preparation steps were vague about how to cook the lentils themselves. Over the next few years, I tried the dish a few more times with mixed results – the lentils were too hard, not seasoned well, too dry, etc. Of course, it didn’t help that I had never actually eaten dal before. All I had was a picture of something that looked pretty good, and some brief descriptions of the finished product. I have this problem often.