Sunday, March 18, 2012

Chemen - Fenugreek

When reader, Bob, asked for a recipe for chamanichur, it turned out what he really wanted was  a sauce recipe containing chaman (chaiman, chemen). His grandmother used to make it and serve it with liver. You might best-know this recipe as the pasty coating that covers basterma, however, chamanichur is thinned out. When I sent Bob a recipe I found in one of my Armenian Church cookbooks, he was overjoyed and anxious to make it.  One BIG catch: he lives in Spain, and finding fenugreek became a monumental challenge. Fortunately, Bob was able to find a source on the internet, and promptly placed an order for ground fenugreek seeds. Bob promises to send a photo of his finished product once he has all of the necessary ingredients.
Ground Fenugreek seeds purchased at Penzeys Spice Shop in Winter Park, Florida (
So, what is fenugreek, you ask? Fenugreek is an aromatic plant with pleasingly bitter, slightly sweet seeds, used as a spice. The leaves, which aren’t readily available in the United States, can be used as an herb in salads. The leaves and sprouts of the plant can also be eaten as vegetables.
Fenugreek seeds can be purchased whole or ground, and generally are used in curry powders, spice blends and teas.

Wikipedia notes the following:
1. For arthritis sufferers: It is believed that drinking 1 cup of fenugreek tea per day, made from the leaves, can help relieve the discomfort of arthritis pain.
(Too bad the leaves are hard to find in the US; I might have to check into this, but  wonder if there would be any side effects, hmmmm.)

2. Fenugreek is a good source of high dietary fiber. Taking a few seeds with warm water before going to sleep helps avoid constipation.

And now for the recipe…
From the cookbook ’Armenian Cuisine: Preserving Our Heritage’, St. John Armenian Church, Southfield, Michigan. Recipe submitted by: Nancy Kazarian and Dolly Matoian

½ cup ground fenugreek seeds (chemen)
½ cup paprika
4 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. cayenne (red pepper)
4 tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. pepper
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
7/8 to 1 cup water

1. Using amount desired, combine in a large bowl, all ingredients except the garlic and water.
2. Add the crushed garlic according to your taste. Begin adding water, a little at a time, so that the mixture has the consistency of cake batter.
3. This mixture can be used in various geragoors  with spinach, lamb, etc., or in Armenian hamburgers, or even in pastry dough for mezza. It can be kept in a plastic bag or bottle in the freezer, to be used as needed. The recipe may be doubled or tripled.


  1. The following email came my way, and I’ve been given permission by the author to add it as a comment for the rest of you to read:
    “I have been a silent reader of your blog for quite a while now and needless to say, I love it. I love the fact that your blog has contributed to my learning about a world and cuisine that’s so special. I read your latest blog post today and that you don’t know where to find fresh fenugreek. Well, Indian grocery stores are your best bet. I believe you live in Florida and from personal experience, I know that areas such as Tampa and so forth have a sizeable Indian community. This translates to the presence of many Indian stores in the state as well. So, you can easily buy fresh (and frozen) fenugreek from these stores. Also, you get fenugreek seeds pretty cheap in these stores as they are extensively used in Indian cooking. You can always grow your own fenugreek by soaking the seeds for a while and throwing them into a pot or ground. Pretty low maintenance and quick results.“

    1. For reference, fenugreek in Hindi is called "methi".

  2. Why is this recipe substantially different from the paste recipe in the "Basterma - Homemade" recipe you have on here?

    1. John,
      Just as there are dozens of different chorag recipes, cheman (chaman)recipes also vary from region to region, and family to family - heck, even the spellings vary!
      Pick the recipe that sounds the most delicious to you, and enjoy.

    2. Armenians in Palestine, and probably the rest of Syria including Lebanon, add bulgur wheat or burghul as a basic ingredient in chaman. What do you think?

    3. I say no. Adding bulgur to chemen contaminates an otherwise gluten-free food with wheat gluten. This is a disservice to our brothers and sisters with Celiac Disease. Why add gluten where it's not needed? What benefit does bulgur wheat add to the chemen?

  3. i'm a bit confused, other that for basterma, what is chaman used for? i don't remember it being used in our family except when my grandfather made basterma.

    1. Koharig, here's another recipe using chaman, (Note: spelling varies!)

    2. open up a pita
      spread some butter
      spread lots of chemen
      EAT !
      DOn't breath on your freinds. lol.

  4. You can smother almost everything with Chaman. Elixir of the Gods.

  5. Good old days, I remember my mum always used to make chemen and when I open "tel dolap" chemen was there.
    Tel Dolap: A cupboard which sides made of fly screen. We use it before refrigerator in Constantinapolis, before sixty years ago. Old geezers may remember. Good old days,

    1. Ah, such a wonderful memory! Thanks for sharing.

  6. I remember my grandma soaking the fenugreek powder several times as it had a bitter taste. is this the case or my memory is failing me?

    1. Your memory serves you well. Fenugreek seeds and sprouts have a somewhat bitter taste. Cooking helps to reduce the bitterness.

  7. My mouth is watering just looking at the near Eastern foods I was brought up with. BUT a lot of preparation time

  8. my mom would make a jar of chemen and just leave it in the refrigeror and she would use it on making breakfast to putting on toast and I'm so grateful to find your recipe on here.