Inside the Indian Household - Fenugreek

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

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Fresh Fenugreek Leaves

The history of this herb goes back a long way. Fenugreek was used by the Egyptians in the process of embalming. With its origin in Southern Europe, Mediterranean and western Asia, it has been widely used for its culinary and medicinal properties.

Fenugreek the herb as well as the seeds are extensively used in Indian cooking. Ask an Indian what methi parathas, Venthiya Kozhambu or Alu Methi, means to him and he will be lost in nostalgia.

The seeds

Fenugreek seeds are both a spice and a legume. They have a strong aroma and somewhat bitter taste, which has been compared to that of celery, maple syrup, or burnt sugar. It forms an important constituent of curry powder and sambar powder. The seeds can be soaked and sprouted. These sprouts can be sown in soil to grow the plant.
The dried form of fenugreek leaves, called kasoori methi is used in several North Indian curries to lend that distinct flavour.
It must be noted that the leaves and seeds cannot replace each other in recipes.

The leaves

These are a herb as well as a vegetable. Methi leaves can either be the flavouring agent or the mainstay of the recipe. They have a bitter tinge and an unforgettable taste. Indians have developed a taste for this wonderful bitterness because of their intimate relationship with this herb.

Buying and storing

Fresh fenugreek leaves are available in Indian stores / markets in bunches. To store fresh leaves, tear off the leaves and discard stems and roots. Store the leaves an airtight box in the fridge and use as per need. This will stay fresh for 3-4 days. Wash the leaves in plenty of water before use.
The seeds are extremely tough. It is best to roast and store them. Roasting reduces the bitterness. The seeds can be stored in airtight container for unto 6 months.

Good for you

Nutritionally, both the seeds and leaves are rich in iron, calcium, potassium and Vitamin C. The Vitamin K and iron from fenugreek greens are comparable to spinach.
The seeds are known to stimulate breast milk production in nursing mothers. Tea made with the seeds or a teaspoon of the powder is a good way to improve milk secretion. In India, traditionally new mothers were given a gruel made with soaked seeds for increasing the flow of milk. Another popular fenugreek recipe for new mothers is a sweetmeat made with the seeds. Seeds are sauteed in ghee and finely powdered. This powder is mixed with wheat flour and sugar to prepare a fudge. This preparation, taken in small quantity daily, helps in quick normalization after delivery.
Diabetics can greatly benefit from the blood sugar reducing effects of fenugreek. To quote the research findings of National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, India - “The effect of taking fenugreek seeds could be quite dramatic, when consumed with 1200-1400 calories diet per day, which is usually recommended for diabetic patients.” It is also known to reduce the levels of total cholesterol and triglycerides in diabetic patients.
Ayurveda considers Fenugreek as a digestive, an appetizer, anti-flatulent, mildly laxative and anti-inflammatory.
Fenugreek tea soothes inflamed gastro-intestinal system, cleanses the stomach, bowels, kidneys and respiratory tract of excess mucus.

Cooking with fenugreek

Recipe I

Kasoori Methi Parathas ( Flat bread flavoured with dried fenugreek leaves)
These Indian breads are a wonderful accompaniment with curries. They can also be had with chutneys or hummus.

2 cups whole wheat flour
3-4 tbsp Kasoori Methi – soaked in water for ½ hour
1 tsp salt
Water to bind the dough.
1 tsp oil

Mix the kasoori methi into the flour and bind it into a dough using water. The dough should be somewhat soft and not sticky. Knead well for 2-3 minutes with a little oil, to make it smooth and pliable.
Make 8 lemon sized balls with the dough. Roll out into round thick tortillas.
Cook each of these on a hot griddle over a medium flame so that the parathas cook through and golden spots appear on both sides.
Remove from griddle and serve hot with curry or chutney.

Kasoori methi will be available on the spice aisle of most Indian grocery stores.
You can half-cook these parathas and freeze a batch of them. Before eating, simply reheat on the griddle till fully cooked with golden spots.

Recipe II

Sambar powder (Spice powder for authentic Tamil Sambhar)
Fenugreek gives that distinct aroma to this South Indian staple. If you have this powder on hand, making sambar is very easy. Sambar is a lentil based thick sour soup made with a variety of vegetables and is served with rice.

5 tbsp Coriander seeds
10-12 red chillies
2 tbsp Tur dal
2 tbsp chana dal (Bengal gram dal)
1 tbsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp turmeric powder

Heat a heavy bottom pan on a low flame. Dry roast all the ingredients except the turmeric one by one until slightly golden and fragrant.
Cool to room temperature. In a dry coffee grinder, grind together all spices into a very fine powder. Mix in the turmeric powder. Store in airtight container.

To make sambar for two people, pressure cook ½ cup tur dal with 2 cups water. Keep aside. In a pan, take some vegetable oil, temper with a few fenugreek seeds, curry leaves and sauté slices of 2 onions till soft. To this add 2 tbsp of tamarind paste, cooked lentils, 1 heaped tbsp of sambar powder dissolved in a little water. Stir well, add salt and let this simmer for 3-5 minutes. Garnish with fresh curry leaves and serve hot with steamed rice and poppadums.

More ideas
1.Soak a handful of fenugreek seeds overnight in water. Drain and keep covered in a warm place until long sprouts appear. These sprouts can be tossed with onions, tomatoes and other greens to make a nutritious salad.
2.Chopped fenugreek leaves can be added to flavour pilafs and curries.
3.Dried fenugreek (Kasuri methi) can be crushed and added to the flour while baking bread for a unique flavour.
4.The leaves can also be used to flavour savoury pies and quiches.

You can find more recipes using fenugreek leaves / seeds here.

Our first event on the Daily Tiffin this month is Show Us Your Lunchbox. Hope you will join us and allow us to peak into your lunch. Deadline April 20th.

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This Post was written by Nandita from Saffron Trail


That's a good write-up Nandita. very informative.

Anonymous said...
April 18, 2007 at 11:18:00 PM GMT+2  

Glad you liked it Reena. Nandita has planned a series of these articles, so hope you will enjoy the upcoming ones too.

Meeta K. Wolff said...
April 20, 2007 at 8:43:00 PM GMT+2  

fenugreek literally means "greek hay". Apparently the Greeks used it too.

Anonymous said...
April 21, 2007 at 10:12:00 PM GMT+2  

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