The most common dish with fresh fenugreek leaves is with potatoes or meat. But you all know I tend to stray away from the standard.
This is a very interesting dish from the state of Tamil Nadu in South India that combines lentils that have been steamed into a cake with sautéed fenugreek leaves. The earthy and spiced lentils pair beautifully with the bitter fenugreek leaves. This is a dish with complex flavors, and one that I really enjoyed. You can serve it as a side during a meal, but I like to serve it as an appetizer.
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For the lentil crumble:
1/2 cup pigeon peas (toor dal)
1/2 cup split chickpeas (chana dal)
3-4 dried red chiles
About 1/2 cup water
3-4 green chiles
1 tablespoon ginger paste
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
A pinch asafoetida powder
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
A steamer with a metal tray
For the leaves:
4 cups tightly packed fresh fenugreek leaves, washed very well in 3 changes of water
1 teaspoon salt
For the tempering:
4 tablespoons oil
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon split black gram (urad dal)
1-2 dried red chiles
15 curry leaves
To make the lentil crumble:
Soak the toor dal, chana dal and dried red chilies in 6 cups of water for 2 hours or overnight. When ready to use, drain well.
Add the soaked lentils, red chilies, green chiles, ginger, turmeric, asafoetida, and salt to a small blender with about 1/4 cup water. Blend into a thick, coarse paste. Add just enough water to get the purée going in the blender.
Grease the metal tray and pour in the purée. Smoothen out to an even layer. Steam for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, open and allow the steamed cake to cool down and dry out.
You can now either cut the steamed lentil cake into squares, or break it up with your fingers into an uneven crumble. I like to cut these into squares rather than break it up for a purely visual presentation purpose. Set aside.
For the leaves:
Bring the leaves to a simmer in a pot with salted water. Blench for 1 minute, or a touch more if the leaves are not tender. Drain and cool in running water so top the cooking. You do not want these cooked to death and a get drab gray color. Set aside in a colander to drain and cool. Drain well by pressing down on the leaves gently when cool.
Heat the oil in a large wok or deep frying pan, large enough for all the ingredients. Add the tempering ingredients in the order listed and sauté for 30 seconds, till the mustard seeds begin to pop. Add the lentil crumble and toss well in the oil. Sauté for 3-4 minutes on medium heat so that the cakes get lightly colored.
Add the blanched fenugreek leaves, separate them out while adding so it makes it easier to mix in. Toss well with the crumble and sauté till very hot. Turn out into a plate or bowl and serve immediately. For a more contemporary preparation, layer the cakes on a plate first and then add the cooked leaves on top. You make choose to add a toothpick to each to allow your guests to pick them up easily.