Introduction and description
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is an annual plant in the family Fabaceae. Its other common name is Methi. The fenugreek we are describing here is Trigonella foenum-graecum L., cultivated fenugreek, but the Trigonella family currently has 36 recognized species some of which are also called fenugreek:
- Trigonella caerulea (L.) Ser., blue fenugreek
- Trigonella corniculata (L.) L., sicklefruit fenugreek
- Trigonella foenum-graecum L., cultivated fenugreek
- Trigonella hierosolymitana Boiss., branched fenugreek
- Trigonella procumbens (Besser) Rchb., trailing fenugreek
The seeds of cultivated fenugreek are a common ingredient in many Middle eastern and Far eastern dishes. Both leaves and seeds can be eaten, but it is perhaps best known for its seeds. The seeds are usually roasted and ground and used in spicy dishes. The leaves from the plant can be used in salads, or in cooked dishes. The seeds have a tangy, bitter, burnt-sugar flavour.
Nearly all cattle like the flavour of Fenugreek in their forage and the name comes from Foenum-graecum, meaning Greek Hay.
Fenugreek is medicinally an extremely important plant.
Fenugreek is an erect annual herb, growing about 2 feet high, similar in habit to Lucerne. The seeds are brownish, about 1/8 inch long, oblong, rhomboidal, with a deep furrow dividing them into two unequal lobes. They are contained, ten to twenty together, in long, narrow, sickle-like pods.
The name of the genus, Trigonella, is derived from the old Greek name, denoting 'three-angled,' from the form of its corolla.
Fenugreek is believed to have been brought into cultivation in the Near East, but it is now grown commercially world-wide as a semiarid crop. Major fenugreek-producing countries are Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iran, Nepal, Bangladesh, Argentina, Egypt, France, Spain, Turkey, and Morocco. The largest producer is India, where the major producing states are Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Haryana, and Punjab. Rajasthan accounts for over 80% of India's output.
In Maharashtra, especially in and around Mumbai, it is often grown near the sea in the sandy tracts, hence the name samudra, "ocean" in Sanskrit. Samudra methi is also grown in dry river beds in the Gangetic plains. When sold as a vegetable in India, the young plants are harvested with their roots still attached and sold in small bundles in the markets and bazaars.
The seeds of Fenugreek have been used medicinally all through the ages and were held in high repute among the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans for medicinal and culinary purposes. Charred fenugreek seeds have been recovered from Tell Halal, Iraq, (carbon dated to 4000 BC) and Bronze Age levels of Lachish and desiccated seeds from the tomb of Tutankhamen. Cato the Elder lists fenugreek with clover and vetch as crops grown to feed cattle. In the 1st century CE, in Galilee, it was grown as a food staple, as Josephus mentions it in his book, the Wars of the Jews. A compendium of Jewish oral law known as the Mishnah (compiled in the 2nd century) mentions the plant under its Hebrew name, tiltan.
Methi is fairly easy to grow from seed and ready to harvest in as little as 30 days. It can be grown as a succession crop in warmer climes and will thus be available much of the year. The advantage of growing your own is that it is fresh and crisp and tasty, once picked methi goes ‘off’ fairly quickly. It can also be frozen and thus provides a useful staple in the winter months. Methi is semi-cold hardy so light frost doesn’t kill it. Methi develops it’s trademark bitter pungent taste in warmer, hot weather. Methi grown in spring and autumn has a milder taste.
Soak the seeds in tap water for 12-24 hours. Prepare the ground by working the soil, adding some compost. Methi can be planted in containers as well. Methi seeds are seeded densely (not in rows). Scatter the pre-soaked methi seeds in the desired growing area and watch them grow!
Like all seeds, fenugreek seeds are best bought little and often. They go stale and lose their volatile oils over time. You'll get more flavour out of fenugreek seeds by grinding or dry frying them. To dry fry, heat up a pan, tip in the seeds and, over a medium heat, brown for a couple of minutes, tossing them around the pan frequently. As the seed's so hard, they're difficult to grind by hand so you will need a grinder.
Fenugreek seeds and leaves are a fundamental part of Middle and Far Eastern cooking an ingredient in many a meal. Aish Merahrah, for example, is an Egyptian flat bread made with 5 -10% ground fenugreek seeds and maize. It is part of the traditional diet of the Egyptian countryside, prepared locally in village homes in Upper Egypt. Aish Merahrah is similar to markouk, a Lebanese bread. The loaves are flat and wide, and usually about 50 cm in diameter.
In Turkish cuisine, fenugreek is used for making a paste known as çemen. Cumin, black pepper, and other spices are added into it, especially to make pastırma.
In Persian cuisine, fenugreek leaves are called شنبلیله (shanbalile). They are the key ingredient and one of several greens incorporated into ghormeh sabzi and eshkeneh, often said to be the Iranian national dishes.
But western cooking incorporates very little fenugreek and given its medicinal uses this is something of a tragedy. Although a search via Google will produce a number of recipes using fenugreek, we decided to go overboard and include more examples than we normally do to show how delicious and versatile this plant and its seeds is.
Rick Stein’s Spicy lentil soup with squash, tomato and green beans (sambar)
For the vegetables
100g/3½oz tur dal (yellow split pigeon peas), well rinsed
1 small onion, chopped
100g/3½oz carrots, cut into 2cm/¾in chunks
100g/3½oz pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2cm/¾in chunks
100g/3½oz green beans, cut into 2cm/¾in lengths
1 medium tomato, chopped
1½ tsp ground turmeric
1½ tsp sugar
1½ tsp salt
For the vegetables, pour 1.5 litres/2½ pints of water into a large, deep pan and bring to the boil.
Add the tur dal, onion, carrots, pumpkin, green beans and tomato and lower the heat to medium-low.
Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.
Stir in the turmeric, sugar and salt and simmer gently for a further 15 minutes, or until the dal is soft.
For the masala, heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan over a medium heat.
Once hot, add the rest of the masala ingredients and fry for 30 seconds to one minute, or until fragrant.
Tip them into a spice grinder or mini food processor, along with the oil, and blend to a paste.
Stir the paste into the pan of vegetables.
For the tarka, heat the oil in a clean frying pan over a medium heat and fry the tarka ingredients for 10 minutes, or until the onion is softened and golden-brown.
Stir this into the pan with the vegetables, along with any oil, and serve.
For the masala
50ml/2fl oz vegetable oil
1 tsp chana dal (Bengal gram or split yellow peas)
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
4 dried Kashmiri chillies with seeds
handful fresh curry leaves
1 tsp asafoetida
For the tarka
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1½ tsp fenugreek seeds
‘The hairy biker’s’ Saag aloo with roasted gobi curry
For the roasted cauliflower
½ head white cauliflower
½ head romanesco cauliflower
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
For the cauliflower, break the two cauliflowers into bite-sized florets and place into a baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, mixing until well combined. Roast for 20 minutes, or until golden-brown and tender.
For the vegetable curry, heat the ghee, or oil, in a large saucepan over a medium heat and fry the onion for 2-3 minutes, or until translucent.
Add the ginger, mustard seeds, curry leaves, turmeric, fenugreek, whole green chillies and chilli powder. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently, until the mustard seeds pop and become aromatic. Add the potatoes and stir to coat in the spices.
Add the tomatoes, spinach leaves, sugar and 55ml/2fl oz water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Stir the roasted cauliflower florets into the curry and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add a squeeze of lemon juice to taste.
To serve, remove and discard the whole green chillies. Serve the curry alongside steamed basmati rice.
For the vegetable curry
2 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2cm/1in piece fresh root ginger, grated
1 tsp black mustard seeds
5 fresh or dried curry leaves
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp ground fenugreek
2 green chillies
½ tsp chilli powder
3 potatoes, peeled and cut into 2cm/1in cubes
450g/1lb baby spinach leaves, washed
250g/8oz tomatoes, chopped
½ tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
squeeze lemon juice
BBC Good Food Magazine Spiced Paneer
vegetable oil, for frying
400g paneer, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tsp coriander seed
knob of ginger, peeled and chopped
1 medium onion , chopped
4 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
1½ tsp chilli powder
1 tsp fenugreek seed
1 tsp garam masala
1 tbsp clear honey
small handful of fresh coriander, chopped
small knob of ginger , peeled and shredded into matchsticks
1 small red and 1 small green pepper, seeded and finely chopped
3 spring onions, finely shredded
Heat 1cm oil in a large frying pan and fry the paneer in batches until golden brown – watch out as the oil spits.
Scoop it on to kitchen paper.
Heat 1 tbsp oil in a frying pan and gently fry the coriander seeds, ginger, chilli and onion for about 8- 10 minutes until golden.
Tip in the tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes until they start to soften. Add the other spices and honey, stir and simmer for a few minutes.
Tip the paneer into the sauce and stir. Simmer for a few minutes, then add the chopped coriander and shredded ginger.
Serve sprinkled with peppers and spring onions
Armenian Pizzas (Lahmahjoon)
1 pound lean ground lamb
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped red onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon freshly ground cumin seed
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon paprika
1 pinch fenugreek seeds, finely crushed
1 lemon wedge
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
6 (6 inch) pita bread rounds
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 lime, cut into wedges
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C). Season lamb with salt and pepper, and set aside.
Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, and bell pepper and stir until just beginning to brown. Stir in the cumin, turmeric, paprika, and fenugreek.
Immediately add the ground lamb. Squeeze lemon wedge over lamb, and drop the peel into the mixture. Break up the meat and stir until it has browned. Remove lemon peel.
Stir in the tomatoes, ketchup, and parsley. Continue to simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated, 10 to 15 minutes. The mixture should be spreadable but not too wet or the pitas will become soggy.
Arrange pitas on a large baking sheet unless you are baking them directly on the oven rack. Spoon meat mixture onto pitas and smooth into an even layer to within 1/8 inch of the edge of the pita. Sprinkle feta cheese on the meat mixture.
Bake pitas until the edges are slightly crisp and meat is lightly browned but not dried out, about 10 to 20 minutes depending on whether pitas are on a baking sheet or on the oven rack. Squeeze lime lightly over the top, sprinkle with chopped mint and enjoy!
2 bunches spinach, roughly chopped
1 bunch fenugreek leaves, roughly chopped [if unavailable use fenugreek seeds freshly ground and more spinach – use fenugreek with spices]
1 tablespoon sunflower oil or ghee
1/2 pound paneer, cubed
2 tablespoons sunflower oil or ghee
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tomato, diced
2 teaspoons garam masala
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup double cream or coconut cream
salt to taste
Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Cook spinach and fenugreek in the boiling water until wilted, about 3 minutes. Drain well and transfer to a food processor. Puree until finely chopped, about 5 pulses.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil or ghee in a large skillet over medium heat. Fry paneer cubes, stirring constantly, until browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil or ghee in the skillet and fry the cumin seeds until lightly toasted and aromatic, about 3 minutes. Add onion; cook and stir until onion begins to soften, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in ginger, garlic, tomato, garam masala, turmeric, and cayenne pepper; cook and stir until tomatoes break down and onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.
Stir in spinach and fenugreek, cream, paneer cubes, and salt to taste. Cover and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
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