"Learn About..." is a recurring post where we'll look at lesser known herbs, greens, etc., and discuss their origin, health benefits, and everything in between!
Fenugreek, or faenugraecum in Latin, which means "Greek hay" as the dried plant was used as fodder, is a plant that's part of the pea family.
Its origins reach far back into history. Stemming from the Near East as long ago as 4000 B.C., fenugreek is common in Southern Asia, popular in Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi cuisine. It's an incredibly versatile plant, often used as an herb, spice, and vegetable.
It's grown throughout the Mediterranean, Northern Africa, France, and many other countries—warm weather is fenugreek's friend.
Some say that, thanks to a chemical in the plant called Sotolon, fenugreek's sweet smell resembles that of maple syrup.
Every stage of the fenugreek plant is used. Its seeds are often used in Indian cuisine for pickles, daals, spice mixes, and vegetable dishes.
Fenugreek's leaves are present in dishes all over the world, from curries to salads (when in their microgreen form) to pita breads to Turkish pastes called "Çemen."
While both the seeds and leaves are edible, they have very different physical properties. The seeds resemble corn kernels and are hard, and the leaves are flat and looks like mint. Both, however, smell syrupy sweet, but taste like burnt sugar.
In terms of texture, fenugreek's is very similar to okra's texture, offering a slippery, thick mouthfeel.
If you're having trouble finding fenugreek at your local grocers, head to a Middle Eastern market. Fenugreek is sometimes called "Menthi" as well.
Unique in flavor, fenugreek also has some pretty impressive health properties. Firstly, fenugreek is incredibly high in fibre, which can aid constipation.
Fenugreek is also rich in minerals—including iron, potassium, calcium, manganese, zinc, copper, selenium, and magnesium—and vitamins—such as vitamins A, B6 and C, niacin, thiamin, folic acid, and riboflavin—making it a great thing to incorporate into one's diet.
Studies have shown high levels of polysaccharides, which help to lower cholesterol levels. The amino acids present in fenugreek also help to lower the rate of glucose absorption, which in tern lowers blood sugar levels. This is particularly important for those with diabetes.
Fenugreek is also used for dying textiles, and some even roast and grind fenugreek to make coffee. And one unexpected usage? Ancient Egyptians used fenugreek in their embalming ceremonies because its sweet odour can change that of urine and sweat through prolonged ingestion!
Try incorporating fenugreek into your culinary arsenal today with this recipe for an Indian food staple, chana masala, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 medium onions, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 fresh, hot green chili pepper, minced
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and ground
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 cups tomatoes, chopped small or 1 15-ounce can of whole tomatoes with their juices, chopped small
2/3 cup water
4 cups cooked chickpeas or 2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 lemon (juiced)
1. Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onion, garlic, ginger and pepper and sauté over medium heat until browned, about 5 minutes.
2. Turn heat down to medium-low and add the coriander, cumin, cayenne, turmeric, cumin seeds, amchoor (if using it), paprika and garam masala. Cook onion mixture with spiced for a minute or two, then add the tomatoes and any accumulated juices, scraping up any bits that have stuck to the pan.
3. Add the water and chickpeas. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, then stir in salt and lemon juice.
4. Eat up or put a lid on it and reheat it when needed. Curries such as this reheat very well, later or or in the days that follow, should it last that long.
… or how about these incredible lentil "meatballs" from Feasting at Home?
Lentil Meatballs with Indian Fenugreek Sauce
1 C black caviar lentils (uncooked)
½ C quinoa ( uncooked)
1 tsp fennel seed
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp granulated garlic
⅓ C chopped cilantro
6 oz firm tofu
1 T olive oil
Coconut Fenugreek Sauce:
6 cloves garlic- minced
1 T fresh ginger, grated
1 tsp fresh turmeric, grated (or ½ teaspoon ground turmeric is )
1- 2 T olive oil
1 large tomato, finely diced
1 T dried fenugreek leaves ( optional)
1 13.5 oz coconut milk (not lite)
1 T lime juice,
1 tsp brown sugar
½ tsp salt, more to taste
¼ tsp cayenne, more to taste
fresh cracked pepper
1. On high heat, bring lentils and fennel seed to a boil in a small pot with 3 cups water. Cover, turn heat to low and simmer 25 minutes. Drain well.
2. On high heat, bring quinoa to boil in a small pot with 1 cup water. Cover, turn heat to low, simmer 15 minutes, turn heat off, leave covered.
3. Make sauce. In a skillet or medium pot, saute garlic and ginger in olive oil, on medium until just golden, stirring often to prevent scorching. Add turmeric ( root, or spice) sauté 1 more minute. Add diced tomato, sauté until most of the juices evaporate, about 5-8 minutes. Stir in coconut milk, fenugreek, lime, brown sugar, salt, cayenne and pepper. Taste for salt. Bring to a simmer, then turn off heat until ready to serve.
Make meat balls. Pre-heat oven to 400F. In a food processor, place the quinoa, and half the lentils, and pulse until texture of coarse sand. Place in a large bowl. Add the remaining lentils, chopped cilantro, salt, granulated garlic to the bowl and mix well. In the same food processor, add tofu and 1-2 T oil. (The tofu will bind the mixture and oil will keep tim from drying out.) Pulse tofu ad oil until smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary. Scoop it into the lentil mixture and mix it in well. Prepare a parchment lined baking sheet. With your hands, kneed lentil mixture briefly it's thoroughly mixed and salt and spices are evenly distributed. Form small ping pong sized balls. Place on baking sheet and place in the oven for 20-25 minutes.
Warm the sauce and place lentil meatballs over the sauce, and sprinkle with cilantro. Serve immediately.
This incredibly versatile and healthy plant can be grown in an Urban Cultivator. While growing fenugreek in soil would take as long as 30 days, it would only take about two weeks in a Cultivator!
Do you have any tips on how to use fenugreek? Let us know in the comments section!