Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Fenugreek & French Toast

I first learned about fenugreek (chilba/hilba in Hebrew) when someone suggested my mother try it to relieve acid reflux. She bought the raw spice, but never really knew how to use it.

The ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians used fenugreek for both medicinal and culinary purposes. If you are interested in fenugreek for purely medicinal purposes, you can purchase it in pill form in most health food stores.
You should also be aware of possible side effects. If you are allergic to peanuts, you can also be sensitive to fenugreek. In addition, just about every positive effect has had the opposite side effect reported occasionally. None of the possibilities are severe, but you should stay away from fenugreek if you are worried about pre-term labor or hypoglycemia. All of the recipes I will suggest in the future will probably stay well under the recommended dosage of 6 grams (German Commission) or 1 tsp 3 times a day.

Nursing Moms: The most common use of fenugreek in the Western world is to increase milk supply in nursing mothers.  Studies show it to be very effective and I have friends who rely on it to have enough milk for their babies.  I think that it can effect the taste of the milk, and I wonder if the babies are also helping to increase the milk supply.  If the baby likes the maple flavor of the milk with fenugreek, they may suck harder or drink more, and the mothers milk supply will increase.  The resulting successful nursing can also relax the mother, further increasing milk supply.  Either way, it's healthier than beer!  Large amounts of fenugreek can also lead to mapley smelling sweat and other fluids.

It seems that fenugreek is said to ease just about every malady known to man, but here is a short digest of some more common indications:
Diabetes: can stabilize blood sugar.  Several human intervention trials demonstrated that the antidiabetic effects of fenugreek seeds ameliorate most metabolic symptoms associated with type-1 and type-2 diabetes in both humans and relevant animal models by reducing serum glucose and improving glucose tolerance.(source link)
Pain: relieves joint pain and migraines, anti-inflammatory
Cholesterol: There are many stories of people successfully replacing their cholesterol meds with fenugreek, over time.
Symptoms of menopause and PMS: estrogen-like properties help increase libido and lessen the effect of hot flashes and mood fluctuations.  Anti-inflammatory properties ease cramps and headaches.

Below is an excerpt from the Encyclopedia of Spices:
Fenugreek is a digestive aid. As an emollient it is used in poultices for boils, cysts and other complaints. Reducing the sugar level of the blood, it is used in diabetes in conjunction with insulin. It also lowers blood pressure. Fenugreek relieves congestion, reduces inflammation and fights infection. Fenugreek contains natural expectorant properties ideal for treating sinus and lung congestion, and loosens & removes excess mucus and phlegm. Fenugreek is also an excellent source of selenium, an anti-radiant which helps the body utilize oxygen. Fenugreek is a natural source of iron, silicon, sodium and thiamine. Fenugreek contains mucilagins which are known for soothing and relaxing inflamed tissues. Fenugreek stimulates the production of mucosal fluids helping remove allergens and toxins from the respiratory tract. Acting as an expectorant, Fenugreek alleviates coughing, stimulates perspiration to reduce fevers, and is beneficial for treating allergies, bronchitis and congestion. In the East, beverages are made from the seed to ease stomach trouble. The chemical make-up is curiously similar to cod liver oil, for which a decoction of the seed is sometimes used as a substitute. Many other properties are ascribed to it in India and the East and not surprisingly include aphrodisiac.
Now, for the cooking!  I had no trouble trouble finding fenugreek at a local spice store very inexpensively, but if you have trouble finding it in spice form, you may need to try Middle Eastern, North African, or Asian grocers.  There are not too many different fenugreek recipes in English, but I will definitely begin including some dishes with fenugreek on this blog.  Most recipes are some version of curry.

Fenugreek has a maple-like flavor and can be used in savory and sweet dishes.  I have used it in sweet potato & lentil salad, sweet & sour black lentils with mushrooms, zucchini, French Toast (see below), anything that's good with curry, and an amazing butternut squash soup I'll be posting tomorrow.  Consider trying it anytime you might use cinnamon, maple extract, honey, Middle Eastern or Spanish flavors, or to balance tartness like lemon or vinegar.

Until now, I've focused on fenugreek seeds, but the leaves and sprouts are also edible.  They have a strong, slightly bitter flavor, and can be cooked much like spinach.  You can make them with garlic, curry spices, or chicken.

French toast is a real treat, and a better use of stale bread than feeding the ducks.  Here is the gist of it:
Mix in a bowl: 3 eggs, about a cup of milk or soy milk, cinnamon, fenugreek (maybe 2 teaspoons), sugar to taste (less for soy milk), and a pinch of salt.  Briefly soak slices of bread (about 8 slices, challah is best)  in the egg mixture, then fry in a pan on medium heat until both sides are dark golden. 

I like my French toast sweet with no other toppings, so I can eat it with my fingers.  If you can't bear to eat it without something on top, consider making the French toast with just milk and eggs, then whip up butter, margarine, or yogurt with cinnamon, fenugreek, and honey.

UPDATE:  I had been looking for a Yemenite recipe with fenugreek, and it turns out one was posted the same day I wrote this! A relative sent me this link for a Yeminite Soup on The Shiksa in The Kitchen.  I don't post a lot of truly spicey dishes, so this is a good addition.  Tori says that hilbeh and s’chug are Yeminite condiments, but I don't think they are specifically Yeminite.  I think Hilbeh, the suace, is the same word used for fenugreek, the spice or seeds.  (Hummus/ Chumus is also used for garbanzo beans, not just the dip.)  And S'chug is a very spicy dip, like the middle Eastern version of the Argentine chimichurri.


  1. I take fenugreek to ease stress about my supply. I've never cooked with it though, I should try this!

  2. I have a hard time understanding how you could equate fenugreek with maple! Fenugreek is bitter, not sweet like maple. Hrmmm...

  3. I'm talking about the crushed seeds. Maybe you've tried the leaves?

  4. Fantastic -- any time during which a little something occurs or even came to be as well as the way in which has impact on how you will read the item.

  5. Well, it’s a nice one, I have been looking for. Thanks for sharing such informative stuff.
    milky mama



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