Fenugreek was known as “Greek Hay” to the Romans as it was grown extensively for fodder. It is an unusual Asiatic herb with aromatic and bitter seeds. It is used in India, Armenia, Iran and Yemeni, where the seeds are used to flavour curries, breads, salads and relishes. Most commercial curry powders include fenugreek. It is a common ingredient in traditional Indian dosa batter to aid the fermentation.
Fenugreek is a member of the pea family, and has cute, small, angular brownish yellow seeds that give many commercial curry powders their earthy, musky curry and celery aroma. The taste is bitter and astringent and this mellows with roasting and it develops a sweet, almost caramel smell. Because of its bitter taste, fenugreek helps to provide the bitter flavour component in the 6 key tastes of Indian food according to Ayurveda.
In India they are often used in spice preparations. In North India they are used mainly in pickles, chutneys and vegetarian dishes. In Western, Southern and Eastern India they are used in a range of spicy dishes. They are part of the Bengali spice mix, pancha phoron. It is also used in African Berbere. In some places the seeds are softened in vinegar before adding to other spices to make a spice paste for a curry. Sometimes fenugreek seeds are soaked in water overnight, and they develop a gelatinous coating which is used as a thickening agent for curries.
Interestingly, fenugreek leaves (methi) have a similar flavour to the seeds, without the sharp pungency, and are used in Indian vegetable curries.
According to Ayurveda, Fenugreek balances out Pitta and Kapha doshas. It is used in the treatment of many diseases. Modern science is catching up with studies showing its effectiveness. You can drink fenugreek seed tea, or sprout the seeds for salads. Make a yoghurt smoothy with fenugreek powder to promote digestion. Grow the seeds and pick the leaves for salads and recipes.
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