Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

FORKLORE

Sweet Hay

May 02, 1996|CHARLES PERRY

To most Americans, fenugreek is just a rare spice with a strange name. They may think of it as the essential ingredient in commercial curry powder, where the ground seeds contribute a heavy, sweetish aroma something like celery seed pounded with burnt sugar. (Actually, it's very far from universal in Indian spice mixtures.)

But it's also used where it originated, in the eastern Mediterranean and nearby areas. The spicy Armenian dried beef product pastirma is coated with garlic, fenugreek and red pepper. Fenugreek goes into the Ethiopian spice mixture berbere. Egyptians flavor their everyday corn tortilla betau with it. In Yemen, people eat so much fenugreek (particularly in the sauce called hilbeh) that this member of the pea family contributes measurably to their protein and carbohydrate intake.

Fenugreek greens have some of the same aroma as the seeds but it's dominated by an attractive weedy, grassy smell. The greens are used in some Indian and Middle Eastern dishes, particularly to flavor roots and leafy vegetables. The Romans scented bowls with fenugreek greens and the ancient Greeks used them for flavoring "fenugreeked" wine (oinos telites).

It's a spice, it's an herb--what else? The seeds are a traditional aid to digestion, particularly when sprouted, and fenugreek is a fodder plant for animals. The Romans, who gave it its name (faenum Graecum or Greek hay), considered it as good as alfalfa.

Anything else? Yes, with the bitterness removed, fenugreek seed flavors imitation maple syrup.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|