Fun With Furans: Making Flat Bread with Fenugreek

The first reports of a strangely seductive aroma wafting over Manhattan, Queens and nearby New Jersey began in 2005. People smelled maple syrup, which got them fantasizing over pancakes and waffles. No doubt, the local Denny’s did brisk business. But there were enough calls to 311 to set the authorities sniffing. It was not until 2009, after the Department of Environmental Protection analyzed dozens of air samples and computed wind routes, that Mayor Bloomberg announced the mysterious source: a spice factory in New Jersey that processed fenugreek.

Sotolon, or more precisely 4,5-dimethyl-3-hydroxy-2[5H]-furanone, is an extremely strong aroma compound. In low concentrations, it smells like maple syrup, caramel or burnt sugar, and at high concentrations it evokes the smell of curry and spices. It is the major aroma and flavor component of fenugreek and lovage, but also flavors rum, white wine, aged sake and tobacco. Why you complain, New Yorkers?

Remarkably, fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is used three ways: as a spice, herb and vegetable. The yellowish cuboid seeds (methi) are roasted and widely used in Indian cooking, the dried leaves (kasuri methi) are used as herb, and the fresh leaves (methi) are cooked as greens (as in my recipe for Alu Methi). This time, I chopped the leaves up finely in my food processor and incorporated them into a verdant and pliant dough, to make methi parathas, a flaky, flat bread full of flavor.

Flat bread with fenugreek leaves (methi paratha), flavored by my favorite furan, sotolan

Flat bread with fenugreek leaves (methi paratha), flavored by my favorite furan, sotolan

  • For the dough, add 0.5 cup of chick pea flour (besan) to 2 cups of wheat flour (atta). You can omit the besan, but it imparts a distinctive texture and aroma that is irresistible. Add a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil when making the dough. Normally, I skip the oil when making ordinary Indian flat breads (chappatis), but it helps to have a softer dough when making the stuffed varieties.
  • Add a pinch of turmeric, chilli powder, cumin seeds and salt to taste. Chop up a green chilli or two if you want it hotter. I made the dough in the food processor, adding water slowly until the dough just began to form clumps. Turn out on the counter top, knead briefly and let it rest covered.

Fenugreek leaves, washed and de-stemmed


Make the dough with minced fenugreek, spices, whole wheat and chick pea flour. Let rest, covered, for half an hour.


Roll out into a circle


Spread a thin layer of oil on the surface


Make a cut to the center, then roll dough around the cut end to form a cone


Flatten the cone into a circle, in the palm of your hand. Note the concentric layers in the dough.


Roll out the dough again. This time, the circle has concentric layers that make the paratha flaky.


Cook on a hot griddle with a scant teaspoon of oil on each side until light brown spots appear


Leftovers are delicious packed for lunch! I served the methi paratha with black eyed peas, roasted wedges of brussels sprouts with cumin seeds, topped off with a cranberry raisin relish. The green chilli is to get my endorphins going.

We were too hungry to wait for any more photos, so I’m sharing the left overs with you. I hope you enjoyed my favorite furan. Until next time, I’ll leave you with a substitute for the cheery yellow flowers of fenugreek and a walk down memory lane.


Path leading from my conference in the village of Les Diablerets, tucked away in the Swiss Alps (banner picture).

This entry was posted in FOOD, Herbs, Indian food, science, Uncategorized, Vegetarian and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Fun With Furans: Making Flat Bread with Fenugreek

  1. Peying Fong says:


  2. CK says:

    looks yummy, Rajini! i love all kinds of bread. haven’t tried any with fenugreek tho. 🙂

  3. Ah, so there are different intensities of fragrance with fenugreek. Lovely, lovely, lovely food–and that’s just the left-overs!

    My colleague at NYU law school library a long time ago taught me how to make paratha, but not this super cool method of make a cone and then flattening it. I will do this soon with just plain paratha. I once had a paratha in a NYC resto that was so delectable, I suspect it had potato flour in it–does that make sense?

    • Hi Michelle! Plain parathas are made this way too. The other way is to fold into a semicircle, apply another thin layer of oil and fold again into a triangle, then roll it out. Parathas stuffed with mashed potatoes are delicious! Probably the most popular stuffed version there is. Making them with potato flour would be unusual though..I don’t think the processed flakes/flour are available in India. Typically, the potatoes are boiled, mashed and filled into a small circle of dough before being rolled out again. I just made parathas stuffed that way with grated white radish, I’ll post the pix sometime.
      Do let me know how the parathas turn out!

  4. Karen says:

    Every time that I stop you your blog, I get so hungry. Each dish looks incredibly delicious.

  5. :-))

    One of my favorites! I love radish and cabbage ones too 🙂

    Your blog presentation is amazing.

    Thanks for the post, anyway.

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