The Magic Spice

Written by Bethany S. Mandel on Thursday, 12 December 2013. Posted in Food Mood

Allergic to Onion or Garlic?

When I first started keeping kosher, friends and family were aghast. How could I possibly give up chicken parmesan, lobster, cheese burgers, etc.? How could I give up trying new restaurants and dishes anywhere I'd like? Truth was though, I almost never ate out and despite being a bit of a foodie, I never enjoyed experimenting with new cuisines that I didn't try to cook myself (I say “try” to cook because I wasn't much of a home chef in my pre-kosher days). 
That’s because, while there's plenty of folks out there with far more serious food allergies than myself, my allergy (which thankfully manifests more like an intolerance) makes eating almost every single world cuisine, including Jewish, difficult if not impossible. Save your vampire jokes...I'm allergic to garlic, onions, and all of their allium relatives. 
Without getting too graphic, take my word that when I eat garlic and onions, things get unpleasant. I prefer to avoid them. How do I manage to cook, especially Jewish cuisine, without it? The most simple answer is: I don't cook with it. It's just that simple. I avoid recipes that rely on the two ingredients for the majority of their flavor. 
A few years ago I discovered, while participating in a Facebook group for other folks with my allergy, a magical spice called asafetida powder that my husband deemed game changing. It's an Indian import and an important spice for a sect of Hindus that don't consume garlic or onions. My rabbi told me that it didn't need to be labeled kosher, since it's a pure spice and hasn't been processed in any way (obviously ask your own LOR for his ruling), but I was only informed of that after I spent months trying to find it with a hechsher. I finally found it online at Starwest Botanicals, and while I had to buy a one pound bag, it was fairly inexpensive to do so, and the bag has lasted me three years and counting. 
How do I cook with it? In any recipe that calls for onion, I use a little less than 1/4 of a teaspoon per onion in the recipe. I treat it as onion. If the recipe says to first brown the onion,
I put the spice in oil before adding the rest of the ingredients. If it's thrown in with other ingredients, I do that with the powder. A warning, though: it's PUNGENT. It's nicknamed "devil's dung" for a reason. One Pesach, I sealed it with the rest of my spices in a cabinet and when I opened that cabinet a few days after Pesach, I had to stop back a few feet after getting hit with the overwhelming smell of the spice. I recommend storing it inside a Ziploc bag away from your other spices so it doesn't corrupt them. 
Amazingly, the avoidance of garlic and onion has, at least from my point of view, become more widespread in the last several years for nursing mothers with gassy babies or folks with IBS or other gastro problems and who need to follow the "elimination diet." If you're faced with trying to cook around this food allergy, or any others, I hope this article will inspire you to get creative! 

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About the Author

Bethany S. Mandel

Bethany S. Mandel is a political writer and commentator and the mom to a beautiful daughter. 

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