When we bought our first home, hiring a gardener was beyond our budget. Thus my husband and I were forced to learn the art of gardening by trial and error. While my husband took care of the lawn and the watering system, I dived into world of vegetable gardening and growing roses. Being a city girl who had never been exposed to gardening, I took on the challenge of keeping the plants alive. An invaluable lesson I learnt in my early years was that gardening actually means 90 percent weeding and 10 percent gardening

Now gardening is my passion and I spend long hours pottering around in my yard tending to herbs, vegetables, roses, and the exotic spice saffron.

The first vegetable I planted was methi or fenugreek. Fenugreek is an annual that grows about 1-2 feet tall and is very easy to grow. If you are new to gardening here are some helpful tips:

Choose a location where you get at least a couple of hours of sunshine. Before planting, add organic compost (which is available in all nurseries and home and gardening stores) to the soil and blend it with the top six inches of the soil. Sow the seeds and cover it lightly with soil. Water thoroughly. Later water every 2-3 days. You will see nature take its course and you will enjoy aromatic oval fenugreek leaves in 8-10 days. You can just cut off the tender leaves and it will harvest for 2-3 weeks before it gets leggy. Once the plant gets leggy, remove and sow new seeds again.

Garden-fresh vegetables burst with flavor and nutrition besides being economical. My friend who stays in an apartment found an innovative way to grow methi. She purchased a bag of organic compost, punched holes at the bottom of the bag with a stick, (for water drainage) cut it open at the top and placed it in her balcony. Then she sprinkled the seeds on top and watered it gently.

Fenugreek leaves or methi have a bitter flavor, which needs getting used to. It is generally cooked with potatoes or dals to mellow down the bitterness. Fenugreek leaves are rich in iron, vitamins, and minerals. My favorite way to enjoy methi is to mix it with wheat flour, chopped garlic, and red chili powder to make delicious roti—thepla. Pair this with a bowl of yogurt and a nutritional meal is ready. My sister often adds chopped fenugreek leaves to khichdi. Jay Apte, an ayurvedic doctor in Foster City, CA states that fenugreek leaves have many medicinal properties. She recommends it for improving digestion, reducing colic, relieving constipation, and hemorrhoids. She applauds it as a cardiac tonic as well.

The fenugreek seeds are small, hard, and yellowish in color. The taste of these seeds is bitter and lingering. Cooking the seed subdues the intense flavor. Fenugreek is grown in Argentina, Egypt, in the Mediterranean region, France, and India. Fenugreek seeds are considered very effective in controlling diabetes and reducing back pain. In India it is customary to add fenugreek in the diet of a new mother after childbirth as it promotes lactation. In many regions there is a custom of giving the new mother a special laddoo made of dried dates, coconut, nuts, and fenugreek seeds for 40 days after childbirth.

An easy way to add fenugreek seeds to your day-to-day cooking is to keep fenugreek seeds in your spice box. Thus it is handy to throw in some along with spices like cumin, and mustard seeds that I regularly use in my cooking. When I sprout lentil or mung bean I often add a tablespoon of fenugreek seeds to boost the nutritional value. In addition, when soaking urad dal for idli or dosa, I add a teaspoon of fenugreek seeds as well.

When I cannot use the fresh methi right away, I wash and chop the leaves. I place a paper towel on a plate and spread the chopped methi leaves on it and then microwave for 8-9 minutes till they are dry and crisp. You can store these dried leaves in an airtight container. I add a spoonful of this dried mix to any dal, vegetable, rice or chapati flour to boost flavor and nutrition.

I would like to share some of my favorite recipes to enjoy the nutritional methi.

Methi Chutney
After childbirth, along with the traditional laddu, I was given this delicious chutney every day for a month.
1 teaspoon methi seeds
¼ cup coconut (unsweetened, dried)
1 red chili (or to taste)
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon cilantro
¾ teaspoon salt (or as per taste)
1 tablespoon sugar

Soak methi seeds, coconut, and red chili overnight. Drain and add to the blender. Mix in lime juice, cilantro, salt, and sugar. Make a coarse mixture of these ingredients. Serve fresh with bread or chapati.

Thakathli Methi
Fenugreek leaves are cooked with buttermilk in this popular dish from Maharasthra.
1 bunch of methi leaves
2 cups buttermilk
¼ cup besan (garbanzo flour)
1½ teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1 tablespoon peanuts
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon oil or ghee
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seed
6-8 fenugreek seeds
2-3 red chilies broken into pieces
2 garlic cloves (chopped)
1/8 teaspoon hing (asafetida)
½ teaspoon turmeric powder

Wash and chop methi leaves and steam for 2-3 minutes. Add besan to ½ cup buttermilk and make a smooth paste. In large pot, add this paste with steamed fenugreek leaves, buttermilk, peanuts, salt, and sugar.

Bring it to a boil and cook for 3-4 minutes. Stir often to prevent burning.
In a small pan add oil or ghee, and throw in mustard seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, red chili and hing. Finally add turmeric powder and remove from heat. Add this spice infused oil to cooked methi.

Serve hot with chapati or rice.

Hema’s Hints: For variation, add a cup of cooked dal to this recipe.