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I have previously described my experiences with Fenugreek seed capsules, which I consumed for the first six months of my daughter's life.
The annual plant fenugreek has a variety of culinary and non-culinary uses, most noticeably as an agent to stimulate and increase human breast milk production. It is endemic in several countries, including Iraq, India and Egypt.
Whilst pregnant with my second child I was surprised to discover packets of fenugreek seeds at my local nursery. I had recently bought a sprout planter and was looking for alfalfa and beansprout mixes to try out.
Once my son arrived I started growing my very own fenugreek sproutlings.
Fenugreek seeds have quite a hard exterior so require pre-soaking in water that covers them to a depth of three times the seed volume. I do this in a teacup, leaving the seeds to soak overnight. A quick rinse in the morning and then the seeds are ready to be spread sparsely and as evenly as possible on the seed tray.
The seeds can be grown into plants in the garden or a pot outside. I use my indoor four tray sprouter. I water the sprouts at least twice a day, rotating the bottom most tray to the top prior to watering.
The fenugreek seedlings usually begin to sprout within 12 hours and are good for use within four to five days. The seed husk is quite bitter so should be removed prior to use. The easiest way to do this, in my opinion, is to place the sprouts in a large (mixing) bowl of cold water, agitate the water then leave to sit for 30 minutes. The husks will sink and the sprouts will float. Repeat this several times.
Dry the the sprouts with paper towel and place in an airtight Mason jar in the fridge. The sprouts can be stored for use for up to six weeks.
These sprouts do have an aroma that smells like maple syrup, even in seed format. There really is no mistaking the smell of fenugreek for something else. I adore the taste of fenugreek sprouts, which are slightly tangy and peppery.
I grow these for use in sandwiches and as a simple, healthy snack to pick at. I am happy that these little sproutlings support my ability to continue breastfeed. Of course it should be noted that consuming fenugreek wont actually cause lactation but only provide some support for women who are already breastfeeding.
Fenugreek, or Methi as it is known in Indian cookery, is one of the most versatile ingredients in Asian cuisine. Fenugreek itself , or 'trigonella foenum-graecum' (meaning quite bizarrely - 'triangular seeded Greek hay') to give it its botanical name is one of the earliest culinary ingredients known to man. For centuries, the leaves were more widely used medicinally - their high iron content made them useful against anaemia, and even up to the Middle Ages, the ground leaf pulp was used as a cure for baldness. To this day, fenugreek is widely available in Indonesia as a hair tonic! Cultivation is very diificult in this country. I have never managed to keep a plant alive outdoors, and under glass, it needs plenty of care and attention. The plant grows quickly, and to get the best taste, the leaves must be harvested prior to flowering. As it is an annual, get what you can, while you can! The young shoots can be harvested early and eaten as a salad vegetable, although for me, they taste a little bitter in this form. The flavour it imparts is of a full, rich textured nature with an almost burnt tang, rather than the smooth vegatative mellowness of a traditional herb. The leaves themselves actually smell like a cross between fresh tea leaves and curry. The seeds can be collected and dried, but their use in cookery is limited, as they are very hard, and can only really be used in stew-type dishes where they will soften. Ground fenugreek seeds do produce a wonderfully rich aroma, but care is needed, as it can quickly overpower the dish. The leaves are widely available in dried form, but if you are in luck, you may be able to find an Asian store which stocks fresh leaves. Although dried leaves give a similar flavour, they lack the freshness and vitality of the full leaf. Very few cookbooks available in this country provide opportunities for use of Methi. I have found from experimentation that there is no
need for any! The dried methi just needs to be soaked in water for a few miutes and it is ready to use. Just follow your normal recipe, and 10-15 minutes before serving, add the required amount. Some recipes, particularly the tomato based ones, benefit from a larger quantity, as it really brings a richness to the dish, and I find usually 1-2 tablespoons for 4 servings is adequate. For your milder creamier dishes, such as Makhan, or Korma, then 1-2 teaspoons is perfect. There are many books and websites devoted to producing that 'authentic' curry, that tastes just like your local takeaway. I have found that the simple addition of Methi, has brought me my closest ever attempt at that elusive goal. If you cannot get hold of any, the following people are helpful at finding anything for you: East End Foods plc 100 Alcester Street Birmingham B12 0QB Tel: 0121 622 2931