The rhombic yellow to amber colored fenugreek seed, commonly called maithray, is frequently used in the preparation of pickles, curry powders, and pastes, and is often encountered in the cuisine of the Indian subcontinent. The young leaves and sprouts of fenugreek are eaten as greens, and the fresh or dried leaves are used to flavor other dishes. The dried leaves (called kasuri methi) have a bitter taste and a strong characteristic smell.
In India, fenugreek seeds are mixed with yogurt and used as a conditioner for hair. It is one of the three ingredients of idli and dosa (Tamil). It is also one of the ingredients in the making of khakhra, a type of bread. It is used in injera/taita, a type of bread unique to Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine. The word for fenugreek in Amharic is abesh, and the seed is reportedly also often used in Ethiopia as a natural herbal medicine in the treatment of diabetes. It is also sometimes used as an ingredient in the production of clarified butter (Amharic: qibé, Ethiopian and Eritrean Tigrinya: tesme), which is similar to Indian ghee. In Turkey, fenugreek gives its name, çemen, to a hot paste used in pastirma. The same paste is used in Egypt for the same purpose. The Arabic word hulba حلبة (Helba in Egypt) for the seed resembles its Mandarin Chinese counterpart hu lu ba. In Yemen it is the main condiment and an ingredient added to the national dish called saltah. Fenugreek, or shambalîleh شنبليله in Persian, is also one of four herbs used for the Iranian recipe Ghormeh Sabzi.
In Egypt, fenugreek seeds are prepared as tea, by being boiled then sweetened. This is a popular winter drink served in coffee shops. In other parts of the Middle East fenugreek is used in a variety of sweet confections. A cake dessert known as Helba in the Islamic world is a tasty treat during Islamic holidays. This is a semolina cake covered in sugar or maple-like syrup, and sprinkled with fenugreek seeds on top.
Jews customarily eat fenugreek during the meal of the first and/or second night of Rosh Hashana (The New Year). It is green and is similar to the verb ירבו (to increase) in Hebrew, which symbolically signifies a prayer that their merits will increase. Yemenite Jews often prepare a foamy substance from fenugreek seeds that they add to soups.
Divyang A. Pandya