Fenugreek spice (Methi) is a member of the pea family which produces pods with between 10 and 20 seeds in them. The seeds are dark yellow or amber, they are very hard and almost square (well cuboid if you want to be technical). As well as the seeds, the leaves are also used as a garnish and an ingredient.
The whole seeds can also be sprouted (like beansprouts). This is used in salads and in Marahashtra it is used to make a really interesting pickle called Methi-Mirchi.
The seeds can be bought whole, cracked or ground.
Fenugreek is a very old herb, known in the Middle East at least 6000 years ago; it is one of the seeds that were found in the tomb of Tutankhamun The ancient Greeks and Egyptians used fenugreek spice both medicinally and in cooking. The word comes from the Latin meaning 'Greek hay'
It grows all around the Mediterranean particularly the eastern end, where it may have originated, but it is know to have been growing wild in India for many centuries.It is now cultivated commercially in the northern states of India which is the biggest producer.
From a culinary point of view it is a very versatile plant. The leaves have a distinctive bittersweet taste a bit like caramelized sugar with a slightly bitter aftertaste. The leaves can also be bought dried (kasoori methi), these again have the characteristic smell and distinctive bitter taste, and can be crushed and sprinkled onto curries or added into naan or paratha bread dough.
Whole fenugreek seeds don't have much aroma before being ground, they should always be roasted slightly before grinding and this releases their full aroma which is sharp and spicy and this is the distinctly curry like fenugreek spice. And indeed it is a very common ingredient in curry powders.
The seeds can be used whole and are one of the five spices in panch phoran. They can also be cooked whole alongside daal.
Not quite so bitter as the leaves - more bittersweet, the ground seeds are commonly used in soups, in daal recipes and in fish and seafood recipes. The spice is good with all sorts of vegetables. In the Pubjab it is used in lamb stews and in the South it is used in chutneys and pickles. The cracked seeds are mainly used for pickling, for example when mixed with raw mangos, and other pickling spices.
Fenugreek spice is packed with minerals, containing all the important dietary minerals except Sodium. They also contain Vitamin C and a whole range of B Vitamins including Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin and B6.
Methi tea can be made easily by just soaking crushed seeds in boiling water, with a little honey and/or lemon to flavour, this makes a drink which is good for coughs and colds and sore throats.
Fenugreek is full of all kinds of amino acids and has been used medicinally for thousands of years. In India it is mixed with yoghurt as a hair conditioner. It is believed to be helpful to diabetics. In Traditional Chinese Medicine it is prescribed for kidney ailments and it has been shown to lower certain types of cholesterol.
Its most well known current medicinal use to increase lactation in nursing mothers.
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