Sunday, May 3, 2009
Foods that make you stink - Fenugreek
I’ve heard a number of people claiming that Indian people have particularly bad BO. I can’t say I can really agree with this – certainly there are some funky-smelling desi folks out there, but are they really stinkier than anyone else? Besides, having dated a number of girls from the subcontinent, I can’t say any of them smelled especially objectionable.
But, if there is any truth to this stereotype, one of the key factors would surely be fenugreek. This small tan-coloured seed, which adds its distinctively warm, bittersweet aroma to curries and other dishes, also adds this same aroma to your sweat and urine after consumption. Its potency is considerable – a teaspoon cooked into your food can have you reeking of it for a couple of days. Mind you, if you look at it objectively, smelling like curry is not really such a bad thing. It’s better than smelling of tobacco or faeces. Nonetheless, smelling like curry is not really gonna win you popularity points, except among cannibals.
Most commonly used is the seed, which is ground and added to dishes, but when planted, the leaves are a useful crop. Frequently found in Indian grocers, the leaves can be cooked just as you would spinach and are delicious. The dried leaves are indispensible for North Indian cuisine; a pinch stirred into a curry at the end of the cooking process makes a huge difference.
Fenugreek also known as halba in Arabic and methi in Hindi, features sporadically in the cuisines of Northern Africa, the Middle East. In the Caucasus, Armenians make a sauce of fenugreek, garlic and paprika to accompany meats, while its dried leaves are a common seasoning in the fascinating cuisine of Georgia. It is common in the Horn of Africa; you can find it in the Ethiopian spice paste berbere, while Sudanese even use it to flavour a sweet custard. In the Gulf States it also turns up in a sweet milky drink, while it is used extensively in Yemeni stews and sauces.
But it is in South Asia that fenugreek turns up everywhere, although usually in small quantities. I’ve been into Indian restaurants (and homes, post-cooking) where the smell of fenugreek leaves hangs heavily in the air, overpowering all other smells, and potentially attaching itself to your clothes and hair.
Without fenugreek, Indian food would be a mere shadow of itself, for when cooked properly it adds wonderful flavour notes to the food. Just be conscious of how much you consume if you are planning on having a special someone examining your body up close. I once made a pot of aloo methi – a North Indian dish of stewed potatoes and fenugreek leaves – that was so tasty I ate if for dinner, then lunch, then dinner again. Which was great but lets just say I smelled like I’d been dipped in curry sauce.