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Growing and Selling Fresh-Cut Herbs
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Growing and Selling
Fresh-Cut Herbs

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Herb of the Month

Trigonella foenum-graecum

Family: Fabaceae

Description: Erect, aromatic annual with trifoliate leaves.  In spring and summer, solitary or paired yellow-white flowers tinged violet at the base are followed by beaked pods with yellow-brown seeds.  Height 24 inches with a spread of 12-18 inches

Cultivation: Prefers full sun and fertile, well drained, alkaline soil.  Sow thickly in rows 9 inches apart in spring for main crop and throughout the summer for young salad leaves.  Use 15-22 kg seed per hectare.  Thin to 4 inches apart; difficult to transplant.  Pick young leaves as needed.  Cut whole plant in autumn.  The legumes are harvested before the full ripening off the seeds, which contain the alkaloid trigonellin and traces of ethereal oils.  Extracts from the seeds have a typically sweet, spicy taste and are used in  the US for flavoring syrups and sauces; they also season pipe tobaccos.   Dry leaves and seed.  Grows to 1-2 feet in height.  Annual.  Much branched stem.  The flowers, in the leaf axils, are ½ - 1 in sessile, with a papilionate yellow-violet corolla.  The fruit is a berry about 4 in which contains ten large, rough, light brown seeds, rhomboidal in shape. They are very coriaceous, but since they contain a high quantity of pectin they swell up in water. 

Culinary Uses: Taste is somewhat sweet but bitter—it has been compared to burnt sugar—and not very delicious in raw form, developing a nice aroma only when cooked. They should always be lightly roasted before use and grinding or pounding with a mortar and pestle.  Overheating turns the seed red and bitter.  A heavy iron skillet is ideal for dry-roasting the seeds.  Hard to grind, fenugreek seeds are best pounded in a mortar after dry-roasting.  It is found as an ingredient in various ready-made curry powders, and in American chutneys, spice mixtures and halva, the sesame-based sweetmeat found in India, Greece and other countries of the Middle East.   The Swiss use a related species, Trigonella coerulea, as a cheese spice.  Helba, a dish of northern Yemen, is made from boiled seeds, served as a purée with a garnish of fried onion and meat.
            Fresh leaves have few culinary uses but sprouted leaves can be tossed into salads and the plant can be eaten as a vegetable when 8 inches tall.
            Tastes good with/in: Indian curries of all kinds, Egyptian and Ethiopian breads, Berber spice mix, stews and to coat fried foods. Seeds are sprouted as a salad vegetable which is also eaten as a tonic for the liver, kidneys and male sexual organs. Dried leaves: boiled root vegetables.  Seed extracts are used in synthetic maple syrup, and maple, vanilla, caramel and butterscotch flavors for the food industry.

Potatoes with Fenugreek
Serves 4
1 lb new potatoes
5 Tbsp unsalted butter
6 oz fresh fenugreek leaves, finely chopped or 2 Tbsp dried fenugreek leaves
½ tsp curry powder
½ tsp mango powder (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water until just tender, 10-15 minutes.  Drain and pat dry.  Melt the butter in a large pan.  Add the potatoes and fenugreek leaves and cook gently until golden, 5-10 minutes.  Sprinkle on the curry and cook for 5 minutes longer, stir often for an even golden brown color.  Season to taste.  Serve either hot or at room temperature.   

Spiced Eggplants
2 medium eggplants, sliced and quartered
7 Tbsp vegetable oil
8 fenugreek seeds
½ tsp fennel seeds
¼ tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp nigella seeds (kalonji)
salt and pepper to taste
¼ tsp chilli powder
1 Tbsp lemon juice
Coriander leaves to garnish
Place the eggplants in a colander and sprinkle with salt.  Leave for about 30 minutes, then thoroughly rinse and pat dry.  Heat the oil in a frying pan, add the seeds and cook for a few seconds until lightly colored.  Add the eggplant pieces, seasoning and chili powder. Lower the heat, stir to combine, cover the pan and cook, turning pieces over occasionally, for about 10-15 minutes or until they are soft and the oil is absorbed. Stir in the lemon juice and serve garnished with fresh coriander leaves


The comprehensive revised edition of Growing and Selling Fresh-Cut Herbs is available from author, most internet booksellers, bookstores, and in libraries.  It can be ordered from the distributor, Independent Publishers Group


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