Fenugreek has long been used in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia in cooking and medicine. Today in the US it is perhaps best known as a spice component of cuisines of India, but it also has an important place within Ethiopian, Turkish, Persian, Arabic and Jewish cuisines. When visiting Philadelphia’s Sino-Southeast Asian markets on Washington Ave, as well as Indian and Pakistani markets in the West and Northeast, fenugreek seeds will be easily spotted in the spice aisles by the oddly cubic shapes of the seeds. These seeds are slightly bitter and sweet and have a lingering taste that is an essential ingredient in many curry and masala spice mixtures.
The vegetable that these seeds come from is an interesting one to cook with, and lately I’ve been seeing some nice fresh bunches of leaves in my explorations of markets in nearby Norristown (Northwest of Philadelphia).
If you aren’t familiar with the West Norriton Farmers Market (aka Super Gigante-located at 1930 W Main St in Norristown), I highly recommend checking it out. It is a huge and fascinating international grocery store that caters largely to Mexican and broader South American and Caribbean tastes, but also has substantial East and South Asian representation with some unusual finds in the produce section.
For example, do you know what a chayote is? Well they had three different kinds of fresh chayote, including the thorny one. Pretty well-stocked for tropical produce.
Fenugreek (often labeled with the Hindi name methi) leaves seem to be a standard offering at this market, and they are sold in bunches with the roots submerged in water. I find this to be a very interesting food that kind of crosses the line between herb and vegetable. I’m only just getting to know how to use it, but today I’ll share two dishes that highlight this flavorful green. In both cases, the tender leaves and stems are first taken off and washed before adding to the dish.
Fenugreek leaves with brown lentils
This first version I based on an interesting recipe that I found here for a Maharastrian Style moong dal salad (मेथी भाजी). I had regular Canadian brown lentils available and decided to substitute. It was delicious, and I feel like the leaves added a slightly tangy note to the salad.
For an approximate recipe please visit that link–as you might be able to tell, the active ingredients in this salad were sliced shallots, garlic, ginger, turmeric, ground toasted spices, asofetida, and chile.
Another popular way to use fresh fenugreek leaves is to cook them with bite-sized spiced potatoes. Young potatoes were also an attractive purchase at the store today, so I made some aloo methi (i.e. potatoes a la fenugreek).
Aloo methi आलू मेथी
This dish’s preparation is even simpler than the lentil salad, and all the steps can be done in one pan. This looks like a recipe that has some pretty standard components (after a quick survey). Usually the fry starts with some whole cumin seeds, chiles, and potatoes in oil or ghee, and powdered spices are added (usually turmeric, asofetida, chile, salt and ginger or garlic). Add a touch of water if the potatoes are going to burn. Add in the whole bunch of cleaned detatched fenugreek leaves and cook until the potatoes are done and the leaves are wilted. Finish off with powdered mango powder or a squeeze of lemon/lime juice.
Some recipes used more greens than potatoes. I think next time I’ll go that route. While I enjoyed these results–it was perfectly spiced and addictive, more greens would better balance that starchy potato (as I was also planning to eat this with rice).
I already had prepared a few Nepali-inspired dishes, a fried mustard greens with ajowan seeds and a black dal with jimbu (which I posted about a few years ago). Altogether, it was a nice weekend meal.