Spice Profile: Fenugreek Seeds
When it comes to cooking, the sheer variety of herbs and spices can be overwhelming. With all the powders, jars, and plants available, how do you know what to buy and when to use it? When is fresh better than dry? Should you eat the stems, the leaves, the roots? In Herb & Spice Companion (Wellfleet Press, 2015), Lindsay Herman has created an accessible guide to seasonings, with over one hundred profiles of the most-used herbs and spices across the globe. As exampled here with fenugreek, Herman provides a comprehensive look at each plant’s history, how to prep and serve and store the seasoning, and how to grow your own spices from seed to harvest. That’s not even mentioning her instructions on various techniques for drying, freezing, frying, mixing, crushing, and chopping that are both brilliant and simple. A book for everyone, from cooks just starting out to old pros adding excitement to their dishes, Herb & Spice Companion is a must for any kitchen.
Flavors: pungent, bitter when raw; nutty, bittersweet, burnt sugar when roasted
The fenugreek plant plays a major role in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines for both its tasty leaves and pungent seeds.
The seeds have a strong fragrance that reminds many people of curry powder— that’s because the spice is often used heavy-handedly in curry powder blends. They’re a crucial component of several other spice blends too: Ethiopian berbere and Yemeni hilbeh. Fenugreek seeds offer an undercurrent of sweetness, which is extracted to make imitation maple syrup.
Fenugreek seeds contain a significant amount of soluble fiber, which has been shown to slow digestion and possibly lower blood sugar, a sign that it may be helpful in treating diabetes. Studies have suggested that it may also help regulate cholesterol levels, reducing the bad (LDL) cholesterol, while increasing the healthy (HDL) cholesterol. A tea made of fenugreek seeds is said to stimulate the production of milk in breastfeeding moms, and it’s been used to relieve symptoms of PMS and menopause, including erratic mood and hot flashes.
In the Garden
Fenugreek, an annual, grows successfully in containers if treated to plenty of sun. In cooler climates, bring potted fenugreek indoors during the winter months. They don’t transplant easily, so choose a suitable container and stick with it. The seeds grow in long, slender pods that can be easily opened and removed.
Size: Up to 2 feet tall
Container: Any size
Light: Full sun
Soil: Moist, fertile, well drained. Mix compost into the soil for added nutrients.
Plant: Seeds, presoaked in warm water for 24 hours
Water: Moderately, only when soil feels dry to the Touch
Harvest: To harvest seeds, wait until fall, when the plant has died and the seedpods are mature; let them dry completely before picking.
In the Kitchen
Dishes: Curries, breads, sauces, chutneys, pickles, pastes
Prep: Seeds should be dry-roasted or fried before cooking to reduce their bitterness and bring out their nutty-sweet flavor; but cook for too long, and they’ll just get bitterer. For optimal flavor, grind seeds using a spice grinder or coffee grinder when ready to use, and use sparingly.
Serve: Add seeds early in long-cooked dishes, and also use them in chutneys, curry powders, and pickling spices. Ground seeds can be used in meat rubs. You can also bake the seeds and leaves into tasty savory breads, like the traditional naan, paratha, and chapati.
Fruits and Vegetables: carrots, cauliflower, eggplant, green beans, okra, onions, peppers, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes
Protein: beans, beef, chicken, fish and seafood, lamb, lentils
Seasonings: allspice, amchoor powder, anise, bay leaf, cardamom, cayenne, chili peppers, cilantro, cinnamon, cloves, coriander seeds, cumin, fennel seeds, fenugreek leaves, galangal, garlic, ginger, lemon juice, lime juice, mustard, nigella, nutmeg, paprika, pepper, sesame seeds, star anise, tamarind, turmeric
• Curry powder
• Maple syrup (at end of cooking)
• Mustard seeds
*Note: There is no exact match for fenugreek seeds, so consider leaving it out of your recipe or altering the flavor with one of these substitutions.
More from Herb & Spice Companion:
Reprinted with permission from Herb & Spice Companion: The Complete Guide to Over 100 Spices and Herbsby Lindsay Herman, published by Wellfleet Press, an imprint of Quarto Publishing, 2015.
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