From the Spice Cupboard: Fenugreek

You know that strange - and mouthwatering - maple syrup aroma that wafts through Manhattan every so often? That's fenugreek being processed at a food-manufacturing plant in New Jersey! If you're not familiar with this spice, it's well worth your effort to seek some out and give it a try. Do you cook with fenugreek?

Both the seeds and the leaves (fresh or dried) of the fenugreek plant are edible. The seeds are small, hard, and have a shrunken rectangular shape similar to dried beans or corn kernels. The leaves are flat and spear-shaped, and radiate out from a central stem. While both smell like caramel or maple syrup when heated, their taste is rather bitter, like burnt sugar.

Fenugreek is most widely used in Indian cuisine, though it's also found in North African and Middle Eastern dishes. It's used in many curry mixes, dry rubs for meat, and some bread recipes. A pinch can also be sprinkled over yogurt, cooked greens, or sauce. Apart from the unique flavor and aroma, fenugreek seeds can also contribute a thick slippery texture to dishes, just like okra.

The fenugreek being processed by that New Jersey plant was probably destined for artificial maple syrup or butterscotch syrup. Even if you've never heard of fenugreek, it's likely you've experienced at some point in this form!

Look for fenugreek at Middle Eastern groceries. It sometimes goes by the name "menthi". You can also find it online at places like Penzeys Spices.

If you'd like to give fenugreek a try, check out these recipes:

Marinated Lamb Chops with Fenugreek Cream Curry from the Food Network
Steamed Rice and Bean Dumplings in Spicy Lentil and Radish Sauce from Epicurious
Salmon Curry from the Boston Globe

How do you use fenugreek in your cooking?

Related: Kitchen Ambition: Learn How to Cook Dosa

(Images: BBC Good Food)

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