While all types of curries are delicious, there will always be a special place in my heart for authentic Indian dishes made with real spices. There’s something about toasted cardamom, chiles, and ginger that goes really, really well with the other ingredients you find in curry. My favorite recipes use carefully crafted spice blends with just the right kind of garam masala to get the perfect flavor. In other words, there’s no substitute for real kasoori methi.
Methi-based dishes have a wonderful flavor profile that’s slightly bitter while still being bold and savory. If you want to make them at home, you’ll definitely want to know all about kasoori methi. We’ll go over what it is, how you can get it, and what you should use as a substitute if you can’t get any in your area.
What is Kasuri Methi?
Kasoori methi (or kasuri methi) is made from dried fenugreek leaves. Fenugreek is a plant that’s used in many cooking cultures stretching from the Mediterranean to India. It’s notably used in Turkish, Persian, Egyptian, Ethiopian, and Yemeni cooking. Fenugreek is one of the few plants that’s used as a seasoning both in seed form and leaf form. The other notable example, coriander, is often found in curries as well.
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To be clear, kasoori methi nearly exclusively refers to dried fenugreek leaves, not fresh ones, and not seeds. Luckily, the fresh leaves taste pretty similar to the dried ones. They’re nowhere near as strong, however. We’ll go over that in a bit more detail when we cover substitutions.
What Does Kasuri Methi Taste Like?
There are two things that people will tell you about kasoori methi. First, people will tell you that it’s pretty close to either celery or fennel. Some people will tell you it tastes like a combination of both. This is pretty accurate. In fact, the best thing to substitute for kasoori methi is a blend of celery and fennel, assuming you don’t have access to fenugreek at all.
The other thing that people will tell you is that kasoori methi tastes like maple syrup. This sounds strange, especially given the comparison above, but it’s true. Fenugreek has a chemical called soloton in it. Soloton is responsible for the distinct smell and taste of maple syrup. It’s also found in caramel, burnt sugar, and a few other foods, but it’s a little bit unusual to find it in an herb.
One interesting tidbit is that fenugreek is so high in soloton that it can make your sweat and pee smell like maple syrup if you eat too much of it. This usually won’t happen if you just use it in curry — you’ll have to eat quite a lot of fenugreek leaves.
Are Fenugreek Leaves Healthy?
Fenugreek leaves are pretty similar to other herbs in terms of nutritional benefits. They’re very low in fat, with lots of calcium and a bit of iron. You’ll get some fiber, but not as much as you might think. Of course, if you’re using fenugreek as a seasoning for your curry, the core nutritional profile of your dish won’t be affected very much by the methi itself.
What Does Kasuri Methi Mean?
“Kasuri methi” in English translates simply to “dried fenugreek leaves.” There’s no metaphor or hidden history here. It’s just a term that refers directly to the plant.
Fenugreek Leaves Substitute
If you’re after something to use instead of kasuri methi in your favorite dish, here’s a quick rundown of your substitution options.
First of all, it should go without saying that the best thing to do is to actually get real dried fenugreek. This isn’t too hard these days. If you’re having trouble finding some, read the section below for ideas about where to buy kasuri methi.
Second, if you can’t find dried leaves, try fresh ones. Dried leaves are about three times more potent when it comes to flavor, so if you’re using fresh leaves, use three times as much. This means 1 tsp of dried leaves equates to about 1 tbsp of fresh leaves.
Third, if you can’t find fenugreek at all, try using fresh chopped celery leaves. If you have access to fennel, mix a little bit of that in at a ratio of 1 part fennel to 2 parts celery. Because this is fresh, you’ll want to use three times as much of this mix as you would dried fenugreek.
Fourth, consider using a pre-made spice mix that already has fenugreek or kasuri methi in it. Many curry powders can be bought that contain quite a lot of this flavorful plant. You’ll have to adjust the overall seasoning of your dish somewhat to account for the other ingredients that are mixed in, but you’ll get a very authentic taste at the end.
Finally, fenugreek is used primarily for seasoning. This means you can substitute any other plant or herb you enjoy the taste of. The dish will taste different, of course, but you’ll be able to enjoy it all the same. Some people will substitute things like kale, watercress, parsley, or alfalfa for fenugreek. Be sure to look at recipes for other types of curry for more inspiration.
What About Kasuri Methi Powder?
Kasuri methi is also available as a powder. These powders are often just made from lightly toasted dried leaves and no other ingredients. Be very careful when using a pure kasuri methi powder in your recipes, however. The increased surface area of the powder can give your dish a much stronger fenugreek taste than you might expect. Use a small amount of powder at first (smaller than the recipe calls for) and taste the result before you add the full lot. You’ll often find that you can get away with using quite a lot less powder than the recipe calls for.
Where to Buy Kasuri Methi
The best place to pick up kasuri methi is at a local Indian supermarket, or a local supermarket that services an Indian or Middle-Eastern community. It’s worth noting that these things are slightly different. I’ve frequently found kasuri methi in Asian and Mexican markets, for example, because the local Indian community happened to shop there as well.
If you don’t have an ethnic market near you, consider buying fenugreek leaves online. You can purchase fairly large containers of dried fenugreek quite cheaply on Amazon. The dried leaves don’t go bad very quickly, meaning they’re very easy to store, ship, and then use. Combine this with fast and inexpensive shipping to ensure that you can make the curry you want within a few days.
One final note: just because you can’t find methi at your local supermarket doesn’t mean it’s not there! Ask a few knowledgeable employees about both methi, fenugreek, and curry leaves before you give up. You’ll often be directed to a section of the store that you overlooked that’s fully stocked with the exact ingredients you’re looking for.
Kasuri Methi Chicken Recipe
Wondering what all the fuss is about? This fast, simple chicken curry is a great way to experience the flavor of kasoori methi without a lot of work. It’s very tender and delicious and uses a pretty normal set of curry ingredients, too, meaning you won’t have to go out of your way to get everything you need.
Methi Chicken Ingredients:
- 1.5 lb chicken, bones removed, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 cardamom pods
- 2 cups onion, diced finely
- 2 tbsp garlic paste
- 2 tbsp ginger paste (you can make these pastes yourself, see notes)
- 2 tbsp chili peppers, chopped
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 cup yogurt (plain)
- 2 tbsp kasoori methi (or substitutes, see above)
- 1 tbsp garam masala
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves
Methi Chicken Directions:
First, make sure your chicken is thoroughly deboned, skinned, and cut into pieces that are small enough for you to eat.
Next, dice your onions and prepare your garlic and ginger paste. If you’re making these yourself, simply blend 2 parts garlic or ginger with 3 parts oil very slowly in a blender or food processor until you get a smooth paste. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and a bit of salt, then add water until you get a consistency you like. You can jar this mixture and use it to make cooking garlic and ginger based dishes a lot easier in the future.
One final bit of prep: seed and stem your chilies. Feel free to use whatever variety of pepper you prefer.
Okay, now it’s time to start cooking. Begin by putting a bit of olive oil in a deep pan (you’ll be adding water, yogurt and chicken) and throwing on your cardamom pods and bay leaves. Toast the pods over medium heat until they start to crackle.
Next, add the onions and cook them until they start to get translucent. Stir frequently to avoid accidentally carmelizing the bottom of your onions. When they’re nice and soft, add the ginger and garlic paste, coriander powder, turmeric powder, and chopped chilies. Stir this mixture together and cook for a couple minutes.
Once this mixture is quite fragrant, add the chicken and the yogurt. Cook for about 8 minutes over medium-high, then reduce to low heat and add the kasuri methi, garam masala, fresh coriander, and a pinch of salt. Add a bit of water or stock (3/4 of a cup), cover, and simmer for at least 10 minutes.
I love to serve this dish with jasmine rice or naan bread, but you can simply serve it on its own or alongside regular bread, too! It’s a great presentation of flavorful herbs and spices that’s quite quick and easy to make.
Kasuri Methi: A Summary
If you’re after an authentic, unusual, and slightly exotic taste in your Indian dishes, you definitely want to learn all about kasuri methi. Literally translated, kasoori methi means “dried fenugreek leaves,” and they’re commonly used as a flavoring in Indian cooking. Methi has a unique combination of a herb-like fennel or celery taste and maple-syrup like notes that make it difficult to substitute. The best thing to do is usually ot use celery leaves, however, with a few fennel leaves thrown in if you can find them. Even a well-crafted substitution will taste different, however, so the best thing to do is to simply buy kasuri methi online. Be sure to look for both the “kasuri methi” and “kasoori methi” spellings in order to find the best product.
One word of caution: kasuri methi is quite strong. When you’re trying a recipe out for the first time, try using half as much fenugreek as the recipe calls for and then tasting the result. Add more methi as needed to achieve your desired flavor level. The unique taste of fenugreek leaves is both delicious and exotic, but you definitely don’t want to overpower your food. Take some time to experiment and taste your dish as you go along to make sure you wind up with something that you want to eat.
Like I said above, fenugreek can make your sweat and pee smell a bit funny if you eat a lot of it. If you take a huge liking to fenugreek curry, you might notice a bit of a change. If it bothers you, simply eat less fenugreek.
If a recipe calls for methi powder instead of raw dried leaves consider making the powder yourself. Simply toast the dried leaves for a few minutes to get them even drier and then put them in a coffee grinder. You’ll get a powder in no time at all. Since powders have a higher surface area than regular dried leaves, be extra careful with how you use this type of kasuri methi. It’s really, really strong!