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Fenugreek: an ancient spice that's under-utilized.

Popular in oriental cooking since time immemorial, fenugreek, a pulse, utilized as a spice, is yet to make its debut in the European and North American kitchen. However, for centuries, in the Far East, India, Egypt and the other Middle Eastern lands it has been a different story. Besides using it in their cooking, the peoples in these lands employed it, through the ages, as a restorative and aphrodisiac.

Fenugreek was introduced by the Arabs into Europe a short time before the 9th century and almost immediately met with the approval of the aristocracy. It is said that Charlemagne, in the early 9th century, favored this spice and encouraged its cultivation on the imperial farms in Germany. Nonetheless, in the subsequent years its use never became widespread in western lands.

Indigenous to the Near East, this aromatic spice was introduced by the Arabs to China where it still carries its Arabic name. Also known as "bird's foot," "goat's horn" and "Greek Hayes," it is cultivated extensively on the periphery of the Mediterranean, Africa, the Indian sub-continent and, to some extent, in the temperate zones of North America. Fenugreek is grown for human food, for its medicinal qualities, or as a forage crop.

In India, where fenugreek is known as hepoundet, in addition to the seeds being used as a spice, they are employed to overcome evil. The leaves of a special variety, called kasoori methi, are brewed into a healthy tea or employed to flavor all types of gravies and sauces. In the Arab countries, the seeds are also widely utilized, especially in Yemen and Morocco--the latter country being the origin of much of this spice imported by North Americans.

Fenugreek, derived from the Latin foenun graecum, is an annual herb belonging to the Leguminosae (pea family). To thrive, it needs a rich well-drained loamy soil and sunny climate. The seeds are planted in early spring when the danger of frost is past. In the initial stage, the plants resemble clover. They reach the height of around two feet and produce bright green leaves and tiny off-white very fragrant flowers.

In about four months, they bear fruit in crescent shaped pods, up to six inches long, resembling string peas. They contain from five to 20 brownish-yellow oblong, bumpy and deeply furrowed seeds. The pods are picked when ripe, but before they begin to shatter, then dried in the sun and their seeds are stored until sold.

An unusual condiment with a very tenacious flavor, fenugreek has an agreeable aroma and a slightly bitter but somewhat sweet tang, reminiscent of sugar. It has a nutty taste that combines the flavor of celery and maple. If used in large amounts, its strong aromatic punch will make food bitter, but if used in small quantities, it adds a unique taste to foods.

One of the oldest plants known to man, fenugreek is rich in protein and contains volatile, fixed oils, cellulose, resin, starch, sugar, mucilage and mineral elements. In the past, besides its use in cooking, it was often employed in medicine.

Pliny extols the curative powers of its seeds in the treatment of female illnesses such as difficult labor and diseases of the uterus. The ancient Egyptians utilized them to cure baldness and herbalists have, through the centuries, recommended them as an demulcent, expectorant, febrifuge, restorative; and in the treatment of anemia, diabetes and rickets. A curious belief in the oriental lands is that when fenugreek is consumed by females it tends to make them pleasantly plump.

In our modern age, even though pharmacologists and others question the effectiveness which was attributed to this spice by the ancients, it has been proven, to some extent, that fenugreek alleviates asthma, bronchitis, coughs, heartburns and eases stomach ailments; and their digestive properties help in counteracting flatulence. The crushed seeds contain 30% mucilage and it has been established that when poultices are made from the crushed seeds, mixed with powdered charcoal, they are effective in the treatment of boils, ulcers and wounds. In addition, a tea made from one tablespoon fenugreek seeds, steeped for five minutes in two cups of boiling water has been found to be a nutritious drink, easing sore throats, fevers, and soothing intestinal pains.

The seeds are retailed usually whole, but can be found ground in Indian and specialty stores. They are a great food enhancer, giving an added succulence to all types of meats and a rich mouth-watering taste to some desserts, beans, eggplants, lentils, peas and root vegetables, especially potatoes. Also, the seeds can be sprouted and used as a vegetable in salads.

In India, the dried ground seeds are utilized in, and dominate, many condiments like curry products and chutneys, and the leaves, in the same manner as coriander leaves, are used in salads. Some Arabs flavor their much beloved halvah with fenugreek and, at times, employ the germinated seeds in their cuisine. In Egypt and other parts of North Africa, the crushed seeds are mixed with wheat flour in bread. The Greeks add a little to honey, and in North America an aromatic oil is extracted and used as a substitute for maple essence in flavoring candies, cookies, ice cream and syrups.

There is only one drawback to the use of this scented spice. It must be employed in moderation. Dishes can easily be over-saturated if large amounts are added. However, when cooks become familiar with this relatively unknown condiment in the western world, gourmet dishes will be their reward.

Fenugreek-Meat Soup

Serves from 8 to 10

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound beef or lamb, cut into 1/2
  inch cubes
2 medium onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 small hot pepper, finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground fenugreek
  seeds
8 cups water
2 medium potatoes, diced into 1
  inch cubes
2 medium carrots, chopped into
  small pieces
1 cup fresh or frozen green peas
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh
  coriander leaves

Heat oil in a saucepan and saute
meat, onions, garlic, hot pepper and
fenugreek over medium/low heat for
12 minutes. Add water and bring to
boil. Cover and cook over medium
heat for 30 minutes. Add remaining
ingredients, except coriander, and
bring to boil. Cook for another 50
minutes or until both vegetables and
meat are well-cooked. Stir in coriander
and serve.

Fenugreek Flavored
Lentil Soup

Serves about 8

    4 tablespoons olive oil
    2 medium onions, chopped
    4 cloves garlic, crushed
    4 tablespoons finely chopped flesh
      coriander leaves
    1 small hot pepper, finely chopped
    2 teaspoons ground fenugreek
    8 cups water
  3/4 cup dried lentils
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
    1 teaspoon pepper
    1 teaspoon cumin
    2 medium potatoes, diced into 1/2
      inch cubes
    4 tablespoons lemon juice

Heat oil in a saucepan; then saute
over medium/low heat onions, garlic,
coriander leaves, fenugreek and
hot pepper for 10 minutes. Stir in remaining
ingredients except potatoes
and lemon juice. Bring to boil and
cover, cook over medium heat for 20
minutes. Add potatoes and re-cover
then cook for another 30 minutes.
Stir in lemon juice and serve.

Fenugreek Flavored
Vegetable Casserole

Serves about 6

  4 tablespoons olive oil
  1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
  2 medium onions, chopped
  3 large sweet bell peppers, seeded
    and finely chopped
1/2 small hot pepper, finely
    chopped
  2 cloves garlic, crushed
  4 medium firm tomatoes, chopped
  1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
  4 eggs

Heat oil in a frying pan until sizzling,
then stir in fenugreek and stir-fry
for 10 seconds. Add onions, both
peppers and garlic, then cover and
cook for 10 minutes over medium/
low heat. Transfer to a casserole and
stir in remaining ingredients except
eggs. Cover and bake for 40 minutes
in a 350[degrees]F preheated oven. Break eggs
over top, then bake uncovered for 10
minutes. Serve hot.

Fenugreek Flavored
Beans

Serves from 8 to 10

  4 tablespoons olive oil
  1 pound beef or lamb, cut into 1/2
    inch cubes
  2 medium onions, chopped
  4 cloves garlic, crushed
  1 hot pepper, finely chopped
  2 teaspoons ground fenugreek
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh
    coriander leaves
  2 cups dried navy beans (or similar
    type), soaked overnight in water
    mixed with 1 teaspoon baking soda
    and drained
  8 cups water
  2 cups stewed tomatoes
  2 teaspoons salt
  1 teaspoon oregano
  1 teaspoon pepper

Heat the oil in a saucepan; then
saute meat over medium/low heat
for 10 minutes. Add onions, garlic,
hot pepper, fenugreek and coriander,
then stir-fry for a another 5
minutes. Add beans and water then
bring to boil. Cover and cook over
medium/low heat for 1-1/2 hours
or until beans are soft, adding more
water if needed. Stir in remaining
ingredients and re-cover. Cook for
another 40 minutes and serve with
cooked rice.

Fenugreek-Eggplant Stew

Serves about 6

  1 large eggplant, about 1 pound
  1 teaspoon salt
  5 tablespoons olive oil
  1 teaspoon ground fenugreek seeds
  2 medium onions, chopped
  3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
    into 1/2-inch cubes
  4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
    seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
    2 cups stewed tomatoes
    2 cups water

Peel eggplant then dice into 3/4-inch
cubes. Place in a strainer and
sprinkle with salt, then stir. Place
heavy weight on top and allow to
drain in a sink for 1 hour.

Heat oil in a saucepan over high
heat until sizzling. Add fenugreek
seeds and stir-fry for about 10 seconds.
Turn heat to medium then stir
in eggplants and the remaining ingredients,
except tomatoes and water.
Stir-fry for about 3 minutes then stir
in tomatoes and water. Cover and
simmer for about 40 minutes over
low heat or until the eggplants and
potatoes are well cooked, adding
more water if necessary. Serve hot
or cold.

Fenugreek Flavored
Carrot and Potato Stew

Serves about 8

  4 tablespoons olive oil
  1 pound beef or lamb, cut into 1
    inch cubes
  2 medium onions, chopped
  4 cloves garlic, crushed
  1 small hot pepper, finely chopped
  4 cups stewed tomatoes
  3 cups water
  2 teaspoons ground fenugreek
  2 teaspoons salt
  1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped flesh coriander
    leaves.
  2 medium carrots, thinly chopped
  4 medium potatoes, diced into 1
    inch cubes

Heat oil in a saucepan and saute
meat over medium/low heat for 10
minutes. Add onions, garlic and hot
pepper, then fry for a further 10 minutes,
stirring often. Stir in tomatoes,
water, fenugreek, salt, cumin and
pepper then bring to boil. Cover and
cook over medium/low heat for 30
minutes. Add remaining ingredients
and cook for a further 40 minutes or
until carrots are well cooked. Serve
hot.

Fenugreek Flavored
Ground Meat Stew

Serves about 8

  4 tablespoons cooking oil
  1 large onion, finely chopped
  6 cloves garlic, crushed
  1 hot pepper, finely chopped
  2 pounds ground beef
  1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
  2 cups water
  4 tablespoons tomato sauce
  1 teaspoon salt
  1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup water

Heat the oil in a frying pan, then
saute over medium heat onion,
garlic and hot pepper for 5 minutes.
Add meat and fenugreek, then fry
for a further 10 minutes, stirring
often. Stir in remaining ingredients,
then cover and simmer over
low heat for 40 minutes, adding
more water if necessary. Serve with
cooked rice.

Fenugreek-Fish Pilaff

Serves 4 to 6

    3 tablespoons butter
    1 large onion, finely chopped
    2 cloves garlic, crushed
    1 pound fish fillet, cut into 1-inch
      cubes
    1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
    1 cup rice, rinsed
2-1/2 cups boiling water
    2 tablespoons tomato paste
    1 teaspoon salt
  1/2 teaspoon pepper
  1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Heat the oil in a frying pan, then
saute onion and garlic over medium
heat for 5 minutes. Add fish and
fenugreek then gently stir-fry another
4 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients
and bring to boil. Cover and
turn heat to medium/low, then cook
for 15 minutes, stirring a number of
times and re-covering to ensure that
rice does not stick to the bottom of
pan. Turn off heat and allow to cook
in own steam for a further 30 minutes
before serving.


BY HABEEB SALLOUM

CANADA
COPYRIGHT 2013 Countryside Publications Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Author:Salloum, Habeeb
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Geographic Code:70MID
Date:Jul 1, 2013
Words:2044
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