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Dec 18, 2011 01:16 PM

Fenugreek seeds. Any secrets?

I adore Indian food, and cook it all the time from the ground seeds up. I love the "top" taste of fenugreek seeds and their aroma is heavenly. However, when I use enough to bring up that "top" taste, unfortunately the bitter aftertaste comes with it and it is just awful. Are there any secrets to dampening or neutralizing the aftertaste? At a local Indian restaurant I get a chicken curry which has that fenugreek seed aroma without the bitterness, but they are vociferously secretive about process. I was curious as to whether there is another ingredient or technique that blunts or otherwise hides that awful aftertaste.

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  1. Are you dry roasting or frying them in oil before using them?

    1 Reply
    1. re: bushwickgirl

      Yes to both, usually the latter as your typical tadka, along with the usual suspects (cumin, coriander, etc) usually only a pinch or two relative to a teaspoon or more of the others. I've found that when I add enough fenugreek seeds to raise that taste I like up to noticeability, the aftertaste is intolerable.

      Thanks for your response!

    2. Ofter when adding them to a wet masala they are soaked over night. Then rinsed of any gel like substance that forms and ground. The soaking removes some of the bitterness inherent in Fenugreek. That and as mentioned before dry or oil roasting are the only methods that I know of.You really just have to use it sparingly.
      Perhaps "lukyfatima" or one of the others that often weigh in on Indian Cooking questions may know more.

      1. Are you sure that they are using fenugreek seeds and not fenugreek leaves? Dried fenugreek leaves give a good aroma and anywhere from 1 tsp to 2-3 full tablespoons may be used after briefly rubbing between the palms and tossed into the curry towards the end of cooking. For purchase at the S. Asian grocer look for qasoori methi or kastoori methi.

        Fenugreek seeds are used very sparingly and usually in temperings, especially for lentils and vegetables. They are actually a legume, and are used to impart a desirable bitter characteristic which matches well with many foods when one bites into a seed mixed in with the rest of food...I reiterate, used in very small quantities, though. I make a dish called karhi pakora, for example, and in a giant pot of yoghurt karhi I only add in around 1/2 tsp of fenugreek seeds.

        I am wondering what type of restaurant this is (Indian region wise) that is using them in 'chicken curry.' Dried fenugreek leaves, however, are a common ingredient in curries in the Mughlai-Punjabi type restaurants that are common in the West. Fresh fenugreek leaves are also common in this style of cooking although more in home use and much less in restaurants. Fenugreek seeds added to meat/chicken preparations is not at all characteristic of Mughlai-Punjabi style cooking.

        Perhaps you can ask again if they meant the seeds or the dried leaves.

        6 Replies
        1. re: luckyfatima

          Oh thank you guys so much for your help. They call the dish Chicken Mangalore, but they did not tell me what was in it. For that info I went to the kind folks at my fave grocery Spices of India and asked what they thought the restaurant was using where you can taste the good top taste of the fenugreek but without the bitter aftertaste. The guy there told me fenugreek seeds. I even asked, "Are you sure it's not the leaves?" and he told me that the leaves taste different from the seeds.

          Thank you chef j and LuckyFatima. I will try soaking the seeds and also pick up some qasoori methi. Fatima I have a feeling I may be pestering you on topics like this quite a bit!

          1. re: gregsamsa

            Ah, so it is a Mangalorean style dish. Regionality is always a key element in South Asian cooking. I had just guessed Mughlai-Punjabi since that is the most common type of Indian resto in the US, but I was off here. I looked up 'Mangalorean Chicken' on google and just opened 3 recipes. All had methi seeds in them (3/4 tsp to up to 1 full tsp and no more). The bitterness is a desired element, once again note how small the quantities of methi seeds are in these recipes. In your Chicken Mangalore at the restaurant, can you see the methi seeds in the gravy? Either way whether you end up going for ground or keeping them whole, use very sparingly, as this is true to how they are used in South Asian cooking.




            Since the seeds are ground, hopefully the bitterness won't be pronounced so much as to bother you.

            If it were me, I would look at a handful of recipes online and maybe amalgamate a few of them to create something that looks interesting to me. Good luck replicating the chicken dish you enjoy at the restaurant.

            1. re: luckyfatima

              Thank you so much for your help. I realized that another way to foreground that unique "top" taste of fenugreek might be to calm down on the other spices. Everything I've used methi in usually has a dozen other spices drowning it out and sometimes I get a little manic with peppers. I wish I could bottle that smell that envelopes my head when fenugreek seeds hit mustard oil, totally turns me into Pavlov's Pooch.

              1. re: gregsamsa

                Isn't luckyfatima a gem? Yes she is!

                1. re: bushwickgirl

                  Thanks bushwickgirl, you made my day :D

                2. re: gregsamsa

                  Like Fatima mentioned, the seeds should be used sparingly. I make a chicken dish that uses methi seeds -- for 3 lbs of chicken, I put less than 1/2 tsp. of methi seeds. It's just enough to add that taste profile without overwhelming the dish. Likewise, when I make sodhi (coconut "soup"), I add about 1/2 tsp seeds to about 10 cups of sodhi.

                  Many recipe call for crushing dry methi leaves and adding them at the end of cooking. That adds a lot more flavor and scent to the dish.