The Magic of One of India’s Strongest Spices

India’s Asafetida: Just a Little is Enough

Asafoetida is one of India’s most pungent spices, so strong that Europeans dubbed it as ‘devil’s dung’ and sometimes ‘stinking gum.’ Asafoetida (or asafetida) is derived from the Latin for fetid. If you are unaccustomed to it, you’d act negatively to its mix of sulfur and onion aromas. Its Hindi word is Hing or Heeng, a dark brown resin-like substance from the roots of ferula, giant fennel plants that grow wild mainly in India, but is also found in Afghanistan and Iran.

However sharply pungent is its smell when raw, Asafetida or Hing is extremely fragrant when added to hot oil or clarified butter ghee to temper the aroma of certain dishes. Some refer to its aroma as that of leeks.

Hing can be paired with turmeric, added to lentil curries like dal or khatti mithi dal, and other vegetable dishes like broccoli. It is used to balance foods that are too sour, sweet, salty, or spicy. It must be used judiciously, just a pinch may be enough to flavor a pot of lentils. It is so pungent that it should be kept in airtight plastic bottles. However, once cooked, it makes dishes very pleasant.

Hing is used primarily for its helpful digestive properties. When added to foods that by nature are gas-producing, like beans and curries, Hing helps their digestion. In India, the spice is believed to have medicinal qualities, anywhere from kidney stones, asthma, bronchitis and even painful menstruation.

It is a cure for ulcers and whooping cough in Afghanistan, while it is considered a diuretic in Egypt. Elsewhere, the spice has been used for non-food purposes – as a tree killer, fish bait, moth trap, or as spirit repellent.

You can get Asafetida or Hing from Indian spice stores or larger supermarkets. The brown powder is full-strength and tiny amounts are enough. The yellow variety has been diluted with flour or rice flour and turmeric, but it must still be used sparingly. The spice works best when first fried for 5 to 10 seconds in hot oil. There is no harm done if you should use more, just have to cook longer until the pungency diminishes, with your windows open.

It can also be used in place of onions and garlic. The fresher the spice is, the more pungent the odor. Just remember the airtight containers, or have a housefull of its smell in just a few hours.

Wonderful Flavors in Bellevue

Ask your favorite Indian restaurant in Bellevue, the Spice Route, about the wonders of Asafetida or Hing, or how great flavors can come from small things.

Long Life with Lentils in Bellevue

India’s Most Common Lentils

Lentils are members of the legume family of vegetables. Because of their high nutritional values, they make a perfect meal with rice as it is the case in India. Do you know that India produces a quarter to half of the total world production of lentils? It’s close to 1.5 million tonnes a year, just behind Canada’s, and most of India’s lentils are consumed locally.

However, going to any of the Indian markets, you can confuse yourself easily with the endless arrays of lentils, varying in sizes and colors. It is good to have a grasp of the most common ones.

The Chaan Daal is the largest Indian lentil, one of the oldest cultivated vegetables in the world. Yellow in color with a sweet nutty flavor, it is one of the most popular and versatile lentils in the Indian diet. It cooks very quickly, under 10 minutes, after first being soaked in water. In spite of its sweet flavor, this lentil is excellent for diabetics. High in protein and fiber, it has almost no effects on blood sugar.

The Moor Daal is probably the most known to Westerners, also eaten in the Middle East, Africa and the rest of Asia. They are the color of salmon and cooks quickly after soaking in water. Becoming golden when cooked, they turn into a mushy, creamy texture with a warm and earthy taste. They can be mashed and added to other dishes for thickening, such as in soups and meat stews. The lentils are very good for bile reflux and also improve blood circulation.
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Southern Sweets from India in Bellevue

Popular Desserts from South India

The word mitha means sweet in the Indian language, and so, all Indian sweets are collectively called Mithai. There are many varieties of Indian sweets that come from original sweets recipes.
As in other cultures, a sweet dish or drink is the final course of a meal. Most Indian desserts include milk or ghee as its main ingredient and you can find them in Indian bakeries.

There are also desserts made with fruits and nuts. In South India, desserts are served first to celebrate sweet beginnings of the occasion – like birthdays, weddings, house-warmings – as well as at the end of the meal.

Let’s look at some popular desserts much loved by Indians from the south, and you will,too. Like the Gulab Jamun, popular also in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Gulab (rose) jamun gets its name from the rose colored jamuns (dumplings) that are soaked in sugar syrup. The sweet dumplings made with milk solids are very light and melts in the mouth.It is made out of milk powder, flour, semolina, lemon juice and ghee or butter. Its sugar syrup has rose essence and cardamom. Delicious whether served warm or cold.

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The Continuing Evolution of Naan

A Short History About Naan

Naan is a leavened, oven-baked flatbread found in Central and South Asian cuisines. Nan or non is a Persian word, and the bread is Iranian in origin but the term ‘naan’ is spoken of in those parts of Asia as the English spelling of this flatbread in early 19th century.

In Iran, naan is just any kind of bread, while In South Asia the naan is a specific kind of a thick flatbread (another well-known kind of flatbread is chapati). In western countries today, the naan they are used to are from the South Asian varieties. It typically consists of dry yeast, all-purpose flour, warm water, sugar, salt ghee and yogurt.

Just like pita, naan is leavened (with yeast) or unleavened. It is cooked in a tandoor, a clay oven, from which tandoori cooking takes its name. This distinguishes it from roti, which is usually cooked on a flat or slightly concave iron griddle called a tava. Typically, it is served hot and brushed with ghee or butter. It can be used to scoop other foods or served stuffed with a filling.

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Ancient to Modern: Indian food

The History of Indian Food

This is a small attempt to tell the huge and long story of Indian cuisine, how it came to be. Let us just stick to major, epochal sections for brevity.

When Aryans came to the subcontinent around 1500 BC, food was simple for this land-tilling, nomadic tribes. By 1000 BC, and settling in the fertile Gangetic plains, their food became more complex. Barley and wheat are the chief produce; cakes are made from them and eaten as staple and offered to the gods.

As agrarianism grew, cattle and domesticated animals came into the picture and soon the Aryans became meat-eaters. When slaughtering the animals for meat got too costly, vegetarianism was born among the Aryans. With the arrival of Buddhism and Jainism in the 6th century BC, eating meat became taboo.
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In Search of Vegan Food in Bellevue

The Vegan Philosophy and Diet

While vegetarians do not eat meat, poultry or fish, they might eat dairy products, like milk, cheese, eggs, or yogurt. Their diet beliefs are varied and may include health reasons, allergic reactions, or respect for animal life. Vegans, on the other hand, are self-committed to a standard of living that totally respects animal well-being.

Hence, they eliminate all types of animal meat and products, and that includes all dairy items. In many cases, this philosophy also embraces animal clothing, animal environment, and animal rights.

When it comes to food, what do vegans eat? There’s a whole lot of choices. Vegans eat lots of veggies, beans, grains, tofu, and fresh or dried fruits. For breakfast, they’ll have bagels, cereals, toasts, pancakes, and even non-dairy milk and veggie sausages. Lunch and dinner fares will include baked or mashed potatoes, stir-fried vegetables, soup or chili over pasta or rice, veggie pizza, veggie burger, seitan casserole or tofu lasagna. There’s a variety of no-meat sandwiches, non-dairy ice cream, vegan pie, cookies, or cake for snacks or dessert.
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Interview with Tom Thanu

22 October, 2016 By Sarah
Original Article from Fried Dandelions

chef-tom-interviewLast spring Irving and I had the opportunity to take a vegan cooking class at Spice Route in Bellevue, WA. The class was taught by Tom Thanu, head chef and owner of both Spice Route and Moksha restaurants. Spice Route is in east Bellevue. It’s a fairly casual, buffet style Indian restaurant, specializing in southern Indian cuisine. Moksha is located in downtown Bellevue, right in the center of the swanky shopping area. Moksha is a somewhat fancier restaurant, with glittering lights, beautiful decor, and a more upscale feel to it. Both restaurants prepare delicious food, with many vegan options available.

Back to the class—We were lucky to attend a small class with just four of us in attendance, so I got to chat away and ask a ton of questions. We watched Chef Tom prepare several dishes for us, and then got to sample everything. The foods were delicious! As we got to chatting I told Tom about my blog, and invited him to participate in this interview series. A few weeks later I returned to the restaurant where I had the chance to ask him a few questions.

FRIED DANDELIONS: Are you vegan or vegetarian?

CHEF TOM: I am a lifelong vegetarian, eating only minimal amounts of dairy, mostly yogurt.

FD: If you could only have 10 food items in your pantry to cook with, what would they be?

CT: lentils, rice, wheat flour for bread, salt and pepper, red chili powder, turmeric, coriander powder, cilantro, cumin seeds, fennel seeds

FD: You serve vegan dishes at both of your restaurants, Spice Route and Moksha. Tell us about one of the popular dishes. Do you find that vegans seek out your restaurants because of your vegan offerings? Do you find non vegans ordering the vegan dishes, maybe without even thinking about it?

CT: Popular is very subjective, because I may like something and someone else likes something else, but from my point, I like the dal fry—urud dal cooked with spices. It’s very mild, not spicy. A misconception that people have is that Indian food is spicy because it’s cooked with spices. It’s not hot hot, it’s flavorful hot. Indian dishes can be made less in terms of heat, but very flavorful.

FD: What do you think about the vegan scene in the Seattle area? Do you think the diverse population creates a bigger demand, or availability of vegan options?

CT: One thing is that the people are much more exposed than the midwest or the south. The diversity of cultures that have been here for a long time—Indians came to the US in the 1850s for farming, and they’re still doing it in California. They’ve brought their own cultures.


The Spicy World of India in Bellevue

The World of Spice


While there are about 80 known spices grown in the world, 50 of those are from India alone. The lush and tropical climate of southern India produces some of the world’s best and enduring spices that characterize Indian cuisine. The saga goes back to ancient times when spices were used to flavor foods.

When European explorers came to Indian shores, they realized they’ve discovered something akin to gold, and brought the spices, herbs and other riches back to the New World. They sold, traded and grew the seeds wherever the clime is suitable.

In India, particularly the southern region, spice markets abound and are an industry in itself. With so many species grown, it is no wonder how southern cuisine got to be so spicy.

Let’s look at some popular spices that characterize southern Indian food and you’ll find some spices incorporated in multinational cuisines as well.

Cassia cinnamon, which has blood-sugar benefits, is a strong and hot spice. Cardon has strong, citrus taste and goes well with cinnamon in lamb meats. Coriander or cilantro, which is fresh lemon in flavor, is used as garnish to add color. Cumin has a licorice-like taste and a popular ingredient to add mild heat to curries.

India’s main spice produce, tamarind, sweetens as it ripens and used in juices. There’s no mistaking the anti-inflammatory properties of tumeric, an aromatic and bitter spice.

Spice for Health at Bellevue Indian Restaurant

The health roles of spices have long been studied – such as aiding digestion, lowering of blood pressure, diminishing stroke incidences, and fortifying resistance. Here at our Indian restaurant in Bellevue, it’s a good thing to know that what you find delicious and flavorful are also good for the health.

Bellevue Southern Indian Food Experience

South and North Differences in Cuisine


Southern Indian food is commonly characterized by its use of rice and coconut. Sauces like chutney and curry, which make up many popular dishes, are made from coconut. Dosas and idlis, on the other hand the most popular breakfast cakes in the south, are made from rice.

The cuisine is more vegetarian-friendly; the use of nutritious lentils, peas and beans characterize their food.

Southern flavors are intense and usually are incorporated in rice dishes. They don’t favor creme unlike cuisine from the north of India and instead use coconut for their gravies. That makes Indian food from the south a lot healthier, aside from the fact that coconut is a beneficial ingredient.

In terms of spiciness, southern variety is much spicier. Consider their spices – green and red chilies, cumin, coriander, pepper, turmeric and fenugreek seeds.

About cooking methods? The south prefer more to steam, boil, or pressure cook, while the north are more into frying, marinating, or roasting. Do you see the benefits?

An Evening of Southern India Dining

Enjoy the unique flavors of southern India dining in our Indian restaurant in Bellevue, considered one of Puget Sound’s best Asian restaurants and one of the best buffet spots that offer specialty southern cuisine from India by chefs of the region. The way we choose and prepare our ingredients make for healthier and delicious offerings. We serve vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free dishes cooked separately from our meat and seafood menu. That is to preserve the natural flavors of healthy southern dining.

Indian Food at the 2016 Olympics

The Rio Olympic Games

Indian food is about more than just a great taste to Indian people. A proper Indian meal is so important that, when proper fare was not available during the 2012 Olympic Games in London, it apparently affected the performance of the Indian athletes. After the resulting controversy, the Indian Olympic Association wrote to the organizing committee to assure that authentic Indian food would be available to the participants from India.

spice-route-tandoori-chickenMore than one hundred Indian athletes are expected to participate in the upcoming Summer Olympic Games in Rio. In order to be on the top of their games, they will require good, nourishing, vegetarian fare.

To accommodate them, the organizing committee has assured the Indian Olympic Association that no effort will be spared to provide them with Indian-style dishes. Rakesh Gupta, India’s Chef de Mission for Rio Olympics, said that the IOA is not taking any chances this time around, and is continuing to communicate with the organizing committee on this issue.

Rio’s Olympic Games, representing the first time that the international sporting event has been held in South America, is scheduled to kick off on August 5th and run until August 21st. If you’re a fan of quality athleticism, don’t miss out on this year’s games.

If you’re a fan of quality Indian cuisine, come and visit Spice Route at our Bellevue location; after a hearty dish of curry, vindaloo, samosas, and more, you’ll see why the Indian athletes have such a hard time going without their favorite foods!