The various parts of the plant are used as a seed, a herb and a vegetable in a variety of cuisines. For something which only grows to about two feet, it has certainly played a tall part in history, from the ancient Romans and Greeks who used the leaves as animal fodder (the name means 'Greek hay’), to the fenugreek seeds found in the tomb of Tutankhamun. It has also played a significant role in ancient medicines around the world. From Persian to Chinese, and North African to Indian Ayurvedic traditions, it has been used to flush kidneys, prevent arthritis, help women gain weight and assist breastfeeding mothers to produce milk, to name just a few of its perceived medicinal benefits. In fact, a recent Australian study even suggested the seeds were an aphrodisiac.
Its culinary uses prove just as diverse and widespread. India is the largest producer of fenugreek in the world, and the seeds are used extensively throughout the sub-continent. Resembling small, irregular yellow stones, they have a slightly bitter taste, which is lost upon cooking, and are often soaked or toasted before being ground in a mortar and pestle to bring out their aromatic flavour. Fenugreek seeds are used as a staple spice in many curry bases, such as the dry potato curry.
Fenugreek leaves and stems are also consumed as a vegetable in cuisines around the world, and can be substituted for any leafy green vegetable, as seen in our fenugreek and ricotta tart. These are available fresh or frozen. Dried fenugreek leaves, known as kasuri methi in India, have a similarly distinctive strong smell and bitter taste. It is used as a marinade, as well as to flavour savoury dishes.
Fenugreek and ricotta tart
Photography by John Laurie.