If you are wondering what fenugreek is, it is a green leafy vegetable that grows from fenugreek seeds (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fenugreek). It is called ‘Methi‘ in Hindi and “Menthya” in Kannada. Fresh green leaves of the plant, yellowish-brown seeds, fine powder made from methi seeds and dried leaves are all used in Indian cooking and other world cuisines.Wikipedia tells me that it is used as a herbal treatment in diabetes, it increases milk production in lactating mums and can help alleviate constipation. Go little herb, go!
As a child, I remember eating “menthya podi anna” meaning rice with powdered fenugreek seeds if I was ever had a funny stomach. It had a slightly bitter and as a child I didn’t like it very much but at it because it was “good for me”. I would watch mum make big vats of mango pickle or “Aavvakkai” where once again, methi would feature. However, Indian pickle is so strong on chilli and salt that the bitterness of the fenugreek seeds never really bothered me. Mum also used to make “menthya pappu”, which was fresh, green, fenugreek leaves and moong dal pressure cooked until soft and eaten with rice, salt, ghee and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Fenugreek leaves can be mixed in while making chickpea flour rotis (Indian unleavened flat bread) known as “thepla”. Fenugreek seeds are an important component of spice mixes for dishes such as sambhar. One final use I’ve come across for fenugreek seeds is to calm one’s stomach down when one is having the runs. One heaped teaspoon of fenugreek seeds are to be swallowed whole with watered down yoghurt and the relief is almost instant. Don’t ask me how they work, but they do. Hopefully, I have shared enough uses for this not so well known herb. I will leave you with some pictures so you can find it next time you are in your local Indian/Pakistani grocer. If you are in the UK, Tesco stocks both the dry and fresh version of fenugreek leaves.
A special variety of fenugreek that grows in the Qasur region of Pakistan. It is used as a dried herb in several north Indian dishes such as Paneer Butter Masala or Butter Chicken so it is well worth having a box of it in your pantry. Additionally, you can use the dried form (soak it in warm water before use) to make rotis/flatbreads with fenugreek in them. I haven’t got a recipe on this site yet with Qasuri methi in use but as soon as I do, I will add a link here. If using in a gravy, add it at the very end, just before turning the curry of the heat. It goes best with creamy, tomato based sauces.
Menthya soppu/ Fresh fenugreek leaves:
The Kannada word for fresh leafy greens is “soppu”. When I was a little girl in Bangalore, the “soppu” lady would visit us once or twice a week with a large woven basket on her head. The basket would be laden with “soppu” of all kinds and mum would stock up as she was always a keen supporter of greens in our diet. Menthya soppu was very popular in mum’s kitchen along with spinach and some others. I get very excited when I make a trip to the one Indian store in my English town and find a few fresh bunches of fresh menthya soppu. I usually pluck the leaves from the stalk and store them in a plastic bag in the fridge until I need to use them. You can still eat the tender stems in the bunch but the harder ones are not very tasty. The most recent lot I bought got used in “methi-aloo-bhath“, a recipe I will write about very soon.
Menthya beeja/Methi seeds:
These are little yellow seeds that have a little twist at one end almost like a bird’s beak. I use menthya seeds in the tempering of some of the South Indian dishes I cook. Most recently, I used it to make sambhar powder or the spice mix for sambhar. They are very easy to grow indoors in a box and make a fun growing project if you have young children learning about plants in school.
Hope you’ve enjoyed the little detour from my recipe-writing as much as I have enjoyed writing it.
Aavakkai = Aah + vuck + kai
Anna = Uh + nah
Bhath = bath
Fenugreek = fen + you + Greek
Menthya = Men + thick + yeah
Methi = May + thick
Pappu = Pup + pooh
Podi = ’Po’ as in poll + ‘Di’ as in dig
Soppu = So + p + pooh
Thepla = They + p + “la” has special “l” sound where you curl your tongue to touch the roof of your mouth as you say ‘llll’ and then release as you say “aaa”)