Foodstuff: Fenugreek Leaf (Methi)
When I saw this product in our local store, Arctic Ventures, I was very excited… I have been using dried Fenugreek leaf for years in all sorts of Indian dishes and I almost despaired of ever being able to use it in its fresh state. I have looked for it in vain on trips down south and you could have almost knocked me down with a feather when it appeared up here in Iqaluit just the other day…
Fenugreek, as it is known in English, derives its name from foenum graecum, which is Latin for ‘Greek Hay’. It is grown all around the world, in Europe as well as Asia and Africa, but it is especially associated with Indian cuisine. In Hindi, it is known as ‘Methi’ but you will often see it more particularly referred to, at least in the dried form, as ‘Kasoori Methi’ after Kasur, in Northern India where it is supposedly of prize quality.
Like the more commonly known Coriander, both the seeds and leaves of the plant are used, although, in contrast to Coriander, where the seeds are markedly different in taste from the leaf (often known as Cilantro), with Fenugreek, the taste of the two is quite similar.
The dried leaf is readily available in any Indian grocery store and can be purchased online as well. As with herbs in general, the flavor is much more concentrated in the dried form and the fresh and even just a few pinches can enliven the taste of a stew or curry whilst the fresh leaves are milder used more like a vegetable than a herb. The aroma of the dried leaf is quite unique and is a bit like an earthy, slightly tangy green tea with a very warm aromatic quality reminiscent of maple. Some describe it as being somewhat bitter in taste but I have never found it to add any bitterness to any dish I have made and the dominant flavor, in my experience, is that same ‘maple’ quality in the aroma.
The irregularly shaped seeds are easy to come by as the dried leaf and come in a variety of sizes. The small ones you see above are about the size of celery seeds whilst the larger ones are roughly the size of pickling salt crystals. I will be featuring them in more depth in an upcoming ‘Spices’ post but to suffice it to say for now, the aroma, as I have noted above, is quite like the dried leaf and in taste has the same essential qualities of the aroma with an added ‘nuttiness’ that works very well in a number of spice blends. I have yet to try it to date, but the seeds are also germinated and the sprouts used in salads and other preparations.
The Fresh Leaf
In the fresh state, the leaves have very little aroma. There is a somewhat earthy, generally herbaceous smell but the ‘maple’ notes are very faint indeed. When tasted raw, the leaves do have a bitterness that is not apparent in the fried form (at least when cooked). It is not astringent by any means, rather on the bitterness level of dandelion greens or some such, and they reminded me a little bit of watercress. The maple taste is apparent in the very background but, possibly because of the bitter quality, it does not have the same ‘warmth’ that typifies this component in the dried form.
In Indian cuisine, the fresh leaf is used as a vegetable in a variety of different ways. It can be sautéed as the primary ingredient of a side dish along with onion, possibly garlic, and various spice blends and it also features in chutneys, salads, raitas, and many varieties of curries. One popular Indian dish is Gosht Methi, which is a lamb curry containing whole handfuls of the leaves. I have always wanted to try this and I am going to use my recent purchase to do a similar dish using beef. You can look for this in an ‘Experiments’ post very shortly.
Given the general unavailability of the fresh leaf I have also always wanted to try growing it from the seed but, alas, as with so many projects, I have thus far not managed to ‘get around’ to it. This summer, though, I am going to try and convince my wife to grow some in our local community green house. Also, I am going to try germinating the seeds here at home to see if we can produce our own sprouts and I will certainly keep you posted on the progress of these attempts…