WHAT IS IT?
Fenugreek (Pronounced fenu-grick) leaves one of my favorite spices that has a lot more versatility than its Indian roots. Unlike the seeds, more commonly found across the world whole or ground, the leaves, consisting of three small oblong leaflets, add big, wonderful maple-like fragrance, and a bit of flecked-green color like parsley.
They can be an accent atop any number of dishes, or be the delicate addition to all kinds of foods where the seeds themselves may be too strong.
Fresh, they’re used in salads, often as sprouted micro greens known as samudra methi.
Dried, they are commonly found in egg and bean dishes. They also add a lot of depth to all kinds of very non-Indian dishes, including: European/American stews, bbq sauces, salad dressings and the even the All-American burger! They have more of fenugreek’s upside, without its gritty downside because they provide a lot of punch with only a few tiny leaves.
They are best used sparingly. Especially when freshly dried, the essential oils in the leaves are very strong. Open the container, and smell. They are potently aromatic.
Fenugreek is a wonderful aromatic, the smell people love in the Indian spice blend garam masala. Cinnamic acid in the leaves and seeds provides most of that wonderful fragrant pungence. The leaves have the benefit of delicacy, as they have trace amounts of what is found in the seeds. While they’re not as sweet as the seed/ground, and a bit a more astringent, they impart a big soft maple aroma with touch of a celery-like flavor and a mild bitterness similar to fresh parsley, even when dried.
Fenugreek is grown all over South Asia in semi-arid climates and in sandy soils near coastal waters. They are best represented in India and Pakistan although they’re also grown in Afghanistan, Iran, Nepal, Bangladesh, Argentina, Egypt, France, Spain, Turkey, and Morocco. There is cultivation on a more limited basis in North America in Florida, California, Utah, and throughout much of Canada.
- Indian Curries
- Salads (Fresh)
- Stews like ghormeh sabzi, a popular national dish of Iran and Azerbaijan.
- Used in a relish called hilbeh, made by Yemeni Jews informally and ceremonially.
A FEW IMPROVISATIONAL RIFFS:
Fenugreek leaves are an improvisational star!
- In an omelette to pop fragrance and add depth;
- The killer aroma of Pee Wee’s BBQ Pork Perfection
- Adds a maple-like aroma to muffins
- The big aroma accent in Mega-Peach pie
- Accentuates the flavor of maple bacon in curing
- Great aromatic flavor added sparingly with other herbs for roasted meats
- Blended into burgers, adds huge aroma pick-up to basic seasonings, from lemon pepper to top-shelf rubs.
The leaves oils are extracted for the maple flavor in imitation maple syrup. Fenugreek goes waaaay back. Charred seeds, carbon dated to 4000 BCE, were found at a site in Iraq, and desiccated seeds were found in the tomb of old King Tut. The Romans called it “Greek hay” and that nickname, faenugraecum, sticks with it to this day. The Romans were mad for the stuff. They infused its flavor into wine and the remainders of the plant were fed to their cattle.
Fenugreek can be an allergen, especially for people who have peanut or chickpea sensitivities.
The warnings about fenugreek at the NIH and elsewhere don’t apply to the leaves, which are used in such small quantities and contain only traces of the coumarin-like compounds that cause the seeds’ allergen issues.
Best to avoid using culinarily if you have these issues:
- You take anticoagulants and antiplatelet med;
- Are pregnant. Fenugreek seeds may affect uterine contractions. The seed powder is recommended in small doses for breast milk supply enhancement after birth, though;
- They may be unsafe for women with hormone-sensitive cancers.
- The seeds have been linked to birth defects in India, although American health centers, like the NIH, and the FDA do not validate those studies. It is a cultivated American crop recognized by the FDA.
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