Yes, it’s a funny word. It’s also a green vegetable when fresh, a spice (seeds) and an herb (dried). You can sorta think of it as a poor man’s spinach – which is sometimes what it replaces in Indian food.
You can get it real easy like in grocery stores, but usually in the ethnic section, and usually only in frozen, dried or seed forms. The seeds, in fact, are interesting. They are known to help lactating women increase breast milk and… this is cool – it makes your skin take on like a maple syrupy smell for some reason. Ours is not to reason why, but if you were to sneak some into the food of your office-mate with the rather pungent B.O., might not be so bad.
The leaves are used much in the same way you’d use just the leaves and tender stalks of cilantro or mint plants. If you find fresh fenugreek (methi in Hindi), it’ll probably be in an Indian food store, or a cool supermarket. If it’s frozen, it’ll be in cubes, and you can just plonk one into your food. Great for steamed rice, or lentils. Chock-full of nutrients too.
Some quick facts (if you’re interested, if not, scroll past)
- 100 gms of fenugreek leaves have about 49 calories
- Fenugreek leaves are enriched with minerals like potassium, calcium, and iron.
- Fresh leaves are made of 3 to 5 % protein.
- Not only are they high in dietary fiber, but the leaves are alsoenriched with Vitamin C. The Vitamin K from fenugreek greens are comparable to spinach
- Dried methi is called ‘Kasuri methi’ and I’ve seen it in loads of stores. Unlike spices like thyme and basil and what not, don’t use the old ‘3 times what you’d add in fresh’ rule, a little of this stuff goes a long way for flavour.
More nutrition information is here.
What people use it for:
Methi is like the little plant that could. People use the leaves (dry or fresh or some combination) in everything from dough for rotis to lentil soups (dal), as a green vegetable, as the token green vegetable in a meat dish (chuck in at the end), ad infinitum.
Point to note though, is that methi is somewhat bitter on its own (like rapini). Is useful sometimes when inserting in large quantities to cut some of the bitterness with stock, or even sugar. With Indian foods, it’s easy enough, with all the spices one puts into the dish. Some people (myself included), like the slight bitterness, so I don’t often bother. Another thing people do is make it as a side dish with grated carrot. But that’s kinda boring.
To the recipe! – Methi Chicken
I love this dish. It happened by accident, I was trying to rescue a curry and teach someone how to cook Indian food and then I got impatient and so this happy, hot mess of awesome ensued. Picking the leaves off the stalks takes time, but it’s completely worth it.
Here’s what you do.
- About 4-5 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into about 1 inch chunks (so they cook fast)
- One bunch (or two cubes) of methi leaves, washed but not chopped
- One small/ 1/2 a medium sized onion, julienned.
- 6-8 curry leaves (more if you’re using dried)
- 1/4 tsp mustard seeds whole
- 1 dried red chilli (whole but broken up) or a pinch of dry red chilli flakes
- 1/2 tsp cumin powder
- 1/2 tsp coriander powder
- 1/2 tsp haldi (tumeric) powder
- 1/2-1 tsp green chili paste (or 1/2 tsp red chilli powder) – or to taste
- 1/2 tsp garam masala powder
- Salt to taste
- 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 tsp ginger/garlic paste
- Pinch of Asafoetida powder (optional)
- Pinch or two of sugar (optional)
- Heat the oil in a fairly wide bottomed pan (doesn’t need a lid).
- Sputter the mustard seeds briefly when the oil heats up. Add the dried chilli flakes/ whole chillies and the asafoetida.
- Add the onions and the ginger garlic, fry till onion gets some color.
- Increase the heat.
- Add chicken chunks. Add spices immediately, and stir well. Let the chicken sizzle up, let any water evaporate and let it get some color. At 3/4ths heat – it should cook very quickly. Don’t increase the heat to maximum – you want the spices to roast, not burn.
- Add a few tablespoons of water if required. This is a fairly dry dish. Add optional pinch of sugar if you want.
- Once the chicken is pretty much cooked (this should take less than 10-12 minutes), add the curry leaves and methi. Once the methi is wilted (or defrosted since I’m lazy and throw frozen methi in without thawing), it’s done.
- Garnish with something green (not that you need to), and eat with some fresh steamed rice and plain yogurt.
PS: You can also get a few bunches of fresh methi at a time and steam/freeze what you don’t’ use. I tried that using a bamboo steamer, about 6-7 minutes on medium heat and then plopped it into a ziplock bag. Worked just fine, and the color remained vibrant.