Its Latin name foenum graecum, which means "Greek hay", reveals its long-time use as animal fodder. But don’t let that put you off fenugreek, which is indispensable in curries, chutneys and pickles for the pungent, earthy, bittersweet (some say burnt sugar) flavour it imparts. A small amount complements many other spices, but it must be used with a steady hand.
Fenugreek is the dried kibble-like seeds of a member of the bean family native to India and southern Europe. It’s now mainly cultivated in India, the Mediterranean and North Africa, where it grows wild. The seeds are yellowish brown and irregular in shape, available whole or as a powder ground from the roasted seeds.
Fenugreek features most prominently in Indian, Sri Lankan, North African and some Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. It figures in many spice blends and is a key ingredient of sambhar, Ethiopian berbere and the Bengali spice powder panch phoron. It suits the more robust curries, such as vindaloo, and recipes where strong oily fish is used; can be mixed into bread flours; and even flavours the Middle Eastern sweet halva.
Used as a medicine since ancient times, fenugreek’s long list of sometimes dubious applications include as a tonic for fevers, flatulence, cough, baldness, as an aphrodisiac and to induce lactation. In parts of North Africa, it was made into a paste with sugar and oil and eaten by women wanting to gain weight.
Use fenugreek in ...
beef vindaloo, dhal, lamb madras, chicken curry, roti, chickpea masala, lentil soup, saag paneer, pickles and chutneys. Mix with oil to coat meat before roasting or barbecuing, or sprinkle sparingly over vegetable dishes. Buy fenugreek seeds whole and toast and grind as needed; they will keep sealed in a cool, dark place for well over a year.
Fenugreek goes with ...
lamb, beef, chicken, fish, lentils, rice, tomato, onion, garlic, mango, carrot, potato, ginger, spinach, cheese, coriander, cumin, paprika, mustard seed, lemon juice.