Associated with Indian cuisine, Fenugreek is the small stony seeds from the pod of a bean-like plant. Fenugreek has a warm and penetrating bouquet which is more pronounced when whole the seeds are roasted. [Ground fenugreek powder has a spicy smell.] The flavor of fenugreek is bitter when un-roasted; roasted [and ground] fenugreek tastes powerful, aromatic and bittersweet, like burnt sugar. Fenugreek has a bitter aftertaste, like lovage or celery.
Fenugreek's use in the Fertile Crescent [Iraq, Iran] dates back to 4000 BC, and it is prized today in the Middle East. The fenugreek seed, often called methi in India, is an important ingredient in South Indian and Sri Lankan [Ceylon] cooking, as well as the cuisine of Eritrea and Ethiopia. Fenugreek appears often in vindaloo, in curry powder and is an ingredient in the Panch phoron five-spice mixture. Fenugreek seeds are an ingredient in the Middle Eastern candy halva, and some Jews customarily eat fenugreek during Rosh Hashanna meals. Fenugreek gives niter kibbeh [Ethiopian spiced butter] its distinctive flavor.
In general, fenugreek brings a tangy aroma to vegetables, and can be used in the preparation of pickles, curries, and chutneys. The flavor of fenugreek pairs well with strong flavors like coriander, cumin, and paprika, and it can deepen tomato flavors in sauces and stews. Fenugreek tastes great alongside dark, leafy greens. Finish your dish with a generous dose of lime or lemon juice.
You may want to buy fenugreek whole, as the little seeds are very hard to grind with home grinders. If using whole seeds, toast them in a pan prior to use to mute its bitterness. Use sparingly -- too much fenugreek will give your cooking an "imitation maple syrup" aroma.