Saturday, October 10, 2015

I Must Be a Farmer- I Grew My Own Fenugreek!

The world can be a very small place at times. Thanks to the Internet and social media it's growing ever smaller by the day. I am making friends in far away lands and enjoying those connections through food, through music, through family, all the commonalities that make in-person friendships so wonder also help shape our online friendships. In my journey as a blogger and Facebook page owner, I met a young lady who lives in Holland. She has a very diverse background, being of Trinidadian descent, born in England, moved about Europe and settled in Holland with her husband and daughter, where Sue cooks amazing Indian recipes using the freshest ingredients, all homemade, and demonstrates a skill far too many cooks these days don't know how to deliver- portion control.

On Sue's Facebook Page Sue, You and Cooking Too she shares photos of everything she prepares for her family. The first thing I noticed when I first met Sue, besides in creative use of spices and the Euro names for foods we call something totally different in the U.S., was the heavy handed use of fresh vegetables on her plate. Her portion size is perfect- no monster piles of meat and starches, and the vegetables are often the stars of the plate. Lots of stir fried and fresh steamed veg. Careful use of lean proteins such as fish and other lean meats. Of course, those spices. Sue is a flavor master when it comes to spices. She inspires me to get out of my comfort zone and try all things Indian.

The fenugreek plants were sturdy and bright and the
blooms were fragrant and pretty.
Since I have this desire to try these new flavors, and spices I have been accumulating them over the last several months. Fenugreek is one such spice that Sue and I were talking about one day. I have a packet of the seeds but Sue says the leaves of the plant are also commonly used in Indian cooking. a gardener that just seemed like a challenge and a great idea. I have always loved growing "weird" things just to see how they turn out. Last summer it was a pot full of lentil plants- which resulted in a small palmful of lentils. Kind of fun actually. I separated out about 6 or 7 fenugreek seeds and planted them in a pot on the deck. Lo and behold they sprouted- very quickly I might add, making their appearance on the third day after planting. The plants grew quickly but weren't especially huge- maybe because they were grown in containers, I'm not really sure as I have no idea what they are like ground in the ground (maybe at the new house?). Anyway, the leave were bright green and solid. Sue told me I should make curry and chop up and include the leaves from the fenugreek plants in my dish. I did a little research and found lots of recipes using the leaves. Sue said they stink, but I didn't find them stinky at all- I found them to smell green and herbaceous. With all this information I was armed with fresh fenugreek leaves and ready to get cooking.

My schedule being as it was I never was able to utilize the leaves in any cooking so when I saw seed pods forming I knew it would be best to let the pods go and until they were fully formed and dry. The leaves browned and dried up and fell off the plants, as most plants often do.

The pots looked like just a bunch of dead sticks but those sticks held on to the seed pods, which hadn't fully dried yet.

After a week or so on the plant, the pods were finally dried. Splitting them open was interesting- they opened easily and revealed a line of squarish brown fenugreek seeds, packed in there like sardines. They popped out easily and are ready to go into whatever dish I plan to use them in, or to replant, for an ever-bearing harvest of fenugreek.

What happened was not only did I replace the few seeds I began with, I have an additional couple tablespoons worth of seeds to add to my jar. I can see this being a regular part of my herb gardening from now on, even if just for the seeds. Since I have these beautiful little seeds, it's time to get busy making something with them. I'm going to rely on Sue for some guidance in this department and get a recipe recommendation from her. I know it's going to be outrageously delicious.

Sue's West Indian Masala Blend
Photo is property of Sue, You and Cooking Too.
Sue's West Indian Masala

 2 tablespoons coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seed
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon mustard seed
1 teaspoon cumin seeds

Combine the seeds in a DRY skillet. Toast the seeds over medium high heat for several minutes until they become fragrant. Remove to a plate and allow the seeds to cool. Grind and use as desired.

So with Sue's masala blend, we are all set to make something really memorable. Once again I reached out to her for a recommendation on how to best use this spice blend and she suggested using the mixture as a dry rub for chicken or fish. She also said if you add a teaspoon of turmeric to the ground mixture it becomes a West Indian Curry. With that in mind, let's play around with some ingredients and do some research and come up with a great way to use this spice blend.

West Indian Curry Roast Chicken and Vegetables

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Sue's West Indian Masala (one batch with the turmeric)
4-6 cloves garlic, smashed to a paste
1/3 cup cooking oil
6 roma tomatoes, cut into chunks
1 medium onion, cut into chunks
2 zucchini, cut into chunks
head of cauliflower, broken into florets
1 stick butter
1 cup coconut milk
chopped fresh parsley
hot cooked rice, for serving

Cut the chicken breast into bite sized cubes and set aside.

In a large bowl add cooking oil. Add the curry seasoning and the garlic, stir to coat with the spices. Add the chicken cubes to the spice mixture, tossing to coat the chicken with the spiced oil. Allow the mixture to rest at room temperature about half an hour to marinate the chicken.

Add the vegetables to the bowl with the chicken. Toss to coat everything. Spread out in a rimmed baking sheet that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Drizzle with the stick of butter, melted. Roast in a 425 degree oven until the chicken is cooked and golden and the vegetables are crisp/tender. 

Remove pan from oven, with a spoon scoop out the chicken, zucchini, onions and cauliflower and place in a bowl. Use a fork to mash the tomatoes in the pan. Add the coconut milk to the tomato mixture and heat to boiling.

To serve, scoop a serving of rice into a shallow bowl, top with chicken and vegetables and spoon sauce over. Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley before serving.

Amazing, right? The vegetables really come to life with the flavorful spice mixture, and retain their texture and color in the oven. I added half a dried ghost chile, crushed, to the spice mixture for some heat. A LOT of heat actually. You can also add an orange veg such as carrots, butternut squash or sweet potatoes- simply cut into chunks and pre-cook until almost tender, then scatter in the roasting pan with the chicken and other vegetables. 

As a relative newbie in the world of Indian foods I am thoroughly enjoying all the culinary experiments. Sue has been an excellent tour guide too. If you're on Facebook you really should give Sue's page a Like. It won't be long and you'll see what I mean about her portion size and abundance of vegetables. The typical plate at Sue's house has a realistic portion of protein and a colorful variety of veggies- most steamed or roasted. The few times she does serve fried foods like "chips" the portions are small as regarded as a treat, not a main portion of the meal. You will also appreciate the genuineness of Sue's "real people food"- no fancy plating or tricks with lighting in her pictures, just real homemade cooking for her family. I can honestly say I have learned more from Sue than any other person in my foodie network.

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