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‘Kasuri methi crackers’ (Nandita Iyer)
‘Kasuri methi crackers’ (Nandita Iyer)

The edible alchemy of methi and memory

Comforting fenugreek-flavoured recipes inspired by a knock-out dish—my father’s aloo methi

In any dish that I make with methi (fenugreek), I would rather add a lot of it than less—such is my love for this desi green leafy vegetable. One may think that its mild bitterness will put people off. But the bitterness gives way to an unmistakably pleasant flavour when it is cooked and that is something I cannot have enough of. Be it in parathas, Gujarati thepla, aloo methi, methi malai matar, Indian cuisine has a number of dishes that use methi.

Methi leaves are usually sold in bunches, with each stem around 8-10 inches long. Another variety is “baby methi", or microgreens around 3 inches long, grown in sandy soil. I have found this variety of methi regularly in Mumbai but not elsewhere in India. Though smaller in size, these leaves are packed with more intense flavour than the bigger versions. Dried methi leaves (or kasuri methi, as it is commonly known) add a punch to any gravy. Crushing a spoonful of kasuri methi is the best way to finish dishes like dal, chhole or paneer or a mixed vegetable curry and give it a final layer of a lingering aroma. I prefer to keep the box of kasuri methi in the freezer. The dried leaves stay crisp and can be crushed into a coarse powder between fingertips before using as a garnish, to release extra flavour.

Until recently, I thought that methi leaves are used only in Indian cooking. But methi appears in Persian food too. It is called shanbalileh in Farsi and is used to flavour soups, salads and stews. Also, methi is an ingredient in the Parsi dish dhansak, possibly a Persian connection. Another Persian dish is eshkeneh, an onion and egg soup with methi leaves, the combination intriguing enough for me to give it a try sometime.

Methi seeds have a completely different flavour profile and are not a substitute for the leaves. It is easy to grow methi from these seeds though, in about a month.

‘Methi paneer bhurji’
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‘Methi paneer bhurji’ (Nandita Iyer)

Whenever I am too lazy to harvest the methi leaves on time, the plants start flowering and giving out slender beans, which look like a thinner version of cluster beans. When these bean pods are opened, you will be delighted to find fresh green fenugreek seeds.

After his retirement, my dad got hooked on to cooking shows. In his impeccable handwriting, he would jot down recipes that interested him, with elaborate notes on the side, in English or Tamil. One such recipe was aloo methi. One day, he took charge of making lunch at my home. I remember him going about the elaborate process of buying, cleaning a ton of methi leaves, dry-roasting spices and grinding them to a powder, cooking the potatoes and putting the dish together. It was worth all that effort because not one crumb was left. Each time I have a fresh bunch of methi, this is the first thing I want to make in his memory. Pair aloo methi with dal and rice or with rotis, or stuff leftovers into a toasted sandwich; it is the ultimate comfort food.

KASURI METHI CRACKERS

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

1 cup atta (flour)

1/2 cup ragi (finger millet) flour

1 tbsp flaxseeds

1 tbsp sesame seeds

2 tbsp kasuri methi

1 tsp salt

2 tbsp coconut oil

1/2 tsp instant yeast + 1/2 cup lukewarm water + 1/2 tsp sugar

(or use 30g sourdough starter)

Flour for rolling out dough

Method

The dough for these crackers can be made using either a sourdough starter or instant yeast. If using the starter, mix it with 1/2 cup water and all the dry ingredients to make a stiff dough, adding oil towards the final kneading stage. Keep it in a covered bowl for 2 hours.

If using yeast, mix the yeast, sugar and 1/2 cup mildly lukewarm water in a cup for 10 minutes, until the mixture is bubbly. Pour this into the dry ingredients and knead to make a stiff dough, adding oil towards the final kneading stage. Keep it in a covered bowl for one hour.

Preheat the oven at 180 degrees Celsius. Line a baking tray with a silicone mat or baking paper. Divide the dough into three-four portions. Roll out each portion into a thin sheet, using some flour to prevent it from sticking. Cut into desired shapes and place in a single layer on the prepared baking tray. Bake in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes until crisp. Remove and store in an airtight container once cooled. Serve with dips of choice.

METHI PANEER BHURJI

Serves 2-3

Ingredients

2 cups methi leaves

2 tsp mustard oil

2 green chillies, sliced

1/2 tsp ginger, grated

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 medium tomato, finely chopped

200g paneer, crumbled

3/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp turmeric

1/4 tsp garam masala powder

Method

Wash and finely chop the methi leaves.

Heat mustard oil in a pan. Fry the green chillies, ginger and cumin seeds. Once the seeds splutter, add onion, tomato and methi leaves.

Sauté on a low flame for 5-6 minutes until the onions are soft and cooked.

Add the crumbled paneer to the vegetables. Season with salt and turmeric. Sauté on a low flame until well combined. Sprinkle garam masala, stir well and remove into a bowl. Serve with rotis or parathas, or topped on slices of toasted bread.

Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer is the author of The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian.

@saffrontrail

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