August 28, 2022
"Is this right?" e. looked slightly confused. She was holding up a spice container with a whole bunch of beige, slightly yellow squarish seeds in it. They were as hard as gravel and would have completely ruined the lamb kabobs she was grilling up from my third book, Indian For Everyone. I had headed up north from Chicago to Wilmette to the Backyard Barbecue Store. The owner Dan and I put a grill class together for his customers and lamb kabobs was the second course. When their resident chef ordered the fenugreek it arrived as seeds, not the dried leaves clearly called for in the recipe. Mistakes like this can cost you an entire dish and often it's why some folks say they don't care for Indian food. Either it didn't come out when they tried to make it or they ate something that was mediocre at best and were turned off. It's why I work so hard to teach you to truly understand what you are buying and why. Those of us who grew up in Indian households take it for granted because we've been raised surrounded with these ingredients - but to someone new to Indian cuisine it can be understandably confusing.
It's also why I am working so hard to get traditional Indian ingredients on mainstream grocery shelves. In order to make Indian recipes correctly you need the correct ingredients.
Fenugreek (Methi) is used as a staple spice especially in north Indian Punjabi cuisine, but it's technically a legume because it starts as a seed that grow in a pod. Another misunderstood legume? Peanuts. Why when folks say they have reactions to peanuts and Indian food, I always mention that fenugreek may be another cause of the discomfort.
The seeds are tiny and very hard, with a bitter profile. They are fantastic when tempered in a little oil to pull out their flavor and then used in dishes like pumpkin and yogurt curry (though if you overcook them you'll get too much bitterness). Another - and often surprising way - to eat the seeds? Sprout them! They not only sprout easily, they are incredibly healthy. The photo above is from just day three of sprouting fenugreek seeds. Day 1: Soak them overnight in ample water. Day 2: Drain them well and let them sit. Day 3: rinse them, make sure they drain, and watch them grow. Eat them as is, with lemon juice and black salt, or sprinkled over soups and salads. I've had sprouted fenugreek salad even served in buffets at the most high-end hotels in India.
Plant the seeds and the herb that grows from them is the fresh fenugreek used in vegetable stir fries. It's similar to coriander seeds that grow up to be the herb cilantro.
While fresh fenugreek is delicious, it's really the dried leaves where the magic takes place. Dried fenugreek (methi) is the 'secret' spice that takes Punjabi dishes from mediocre to absolutely amazing. We put it in everything including our curries and even in our breads. Kasoori Methi, or dried fenugreek, can be found in any Indian grocery store. The best way to truly release its flavor? Just squeeze it a bit in one hand before adding it to your dish and watch all that magic slowly unravel. Gujarati cuisine also uses dried methi especially in snack breads. Learn how to use this unique and versatile ingredient and watch and taste your Indian cooking come to life!
Watch my video on methi:
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November 28, 2023