Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Indian Spices: Methi Dana (Fenugreek Seeds)

The Indian philosophy on food is that a meal should balance six 'rasas' or tastes - sweet, sour, pungent, salty, astringent and bitter. You will find this balance of different tastes in traditional meals across the length and breadth of the country - be it Gujarati food, Punjabi food, Bengali food, Maharashtrian food or South Indian food.

Though to someone new, it may seem that the bitter 'rasa' is the most difficult of all to add to a meal, however it is not so. All cuisines have their own ways in which they introduce it to the meal - a traditional Bengali meal begins with a bitter course with preparations such as 'shukto' (a mixed vegetable preparation) which has bitter gourd in it, whereas Gujaratis have dishes like 'thepla' (a spiced flatbread) that uses the slightly bitter fresh fenugreek leaves in it. Fenugreek seeds  or methi dana are a  a very common way in which the bitter 'rasa' is added to everyday meals.

Methi Dana: Fenugreek Seeds

In our kitchen, methi dana (fenugreek seeds) is a very essential spice, though it is used in small quantities. It is always at hand in our spice box that we use everyday. My mum and I add about 4 or 5 seeds of fenugreek in the tempering for the 'dal' (lentil preparation) we make everyday. It is also added to many spice mixes used in different cuisines everyday such as the 'panch phoron' (a mixture of five spices) in Bengali cuisine or the 'rasam' (spicy tomato and lentil soup) and 'sambhar' (lentil preparation had with idlis, dosas or rice) spice powders of the South. Broken methi dana (or methi na kuriya) are also used as a base for pickle spices.

Fenugreek sseds have a lot of health benefits. They are especially good for women during their periods or when they are pregnant or lactating. Adding fenugreek seeds to the daily diet is also recommended for diabetic patients. They can also be used in poultices (wrapped in a cloth and warmed) to relieve pains and inflammation. Fenugreek seeds are also very good for skin and hair - hair loss can be prevented by boiling fenugreek seed powder with coconut or olive oil, applying it to hair when it cools down and washing after and hour or so.