A new love: freekeh

Freekeh salad

Meet my latest food crush. Crunchy and juicy, with a challenging but yielding texture interesting enough to make you want for more, but not actually get tired of it. A subtle whiff of smoke, the smell of a thousand and one nights, and its bronzed hue betray its Middle East origin, while a tiny hint of grass makes you dream of the wild outdoors. Like all love relationships, it wouldn’t work long-term, if it were not good for you.

Meet Freekeh, Green wheat. Think unripe grain, smoked to dryness. Better than it sounds. Easier than it sounds, too. I have never much liked simple whole wheat, but this is another story. This is up there with farro. This is marriage material.

I cooked it first using a recipe from Plenty. I was so unsure about it. A whole grain, and it required five minutes of soaking and 15 minutes of cooking? I get the unripe part, but I wouldn’t think it would be that quick. Of course it wasn’t: freekeh comes in two varieties (at least), one whole and one broken, a bit like wheat grains and bulgur. Well, if the recipe says ‘substitute with bulgur’, I should have had doubts before… Anyway, I just kept adding stock to my whole grains and I simmered until I liked the consistency. For a failed recipe, it was incredibly good, it did not taste like a failed recipe at all. The time after that I improvised, adding some lentils to make it a complete meal, and these oven dried tomatoes, that see me through more than a winter night.

I also used my new wealth. Didn’t I tell you I just found a treasure? A pack from Calabria. 5 liters of the best extra virgin, cold pressed, organically grown, tree harvested olive oil, with zero acidity and the flavour of pressed olives, nothing else, made by my partner’s father in the Garden of Eden. Some torroncini from Bagnara, like there is no equal anywhere else (we Italians all have our ideal torrone, and we never agree on which one is best. My friend’s torrone is never better than mine). And a kilo of sun-dried tomatoes. Red gold. The torroncini did not find place in the pilaf, but the oil and the tomatoes did. It did not need anything else.

Sun-dried tomatoes

The tomato picture above goes to Susan‘s Black and White Wednesdays. The recipe goes to another event of Susan’s, My Legume Love Affair n. 43, hosted this month by Claire at Chez Cayenne.

Freekeh, brown lentils and tomatoes

Ingredients (makes about 4 portions as a side – it keeps very well, actually it is better the day after)

For the tomatoes:

300 gr cherry tomatoes, halved

1 tablespoon maple syrup

2 teaspoon olive oil

2 garlic cloves, sliced

pinch of chilli flakes

pinch of oregano or thyme

For the pilaf:

170 gr whole grain freekeh

300 ml water or vegetable stock (I used my home-made bouillon)

3-4 sun-dried tomatoes

150 gr small brown lentils that keep well their shapes, such as beluga or puy

olive oil

Method:

Up to two days before, make the tomatoes. Halve them and toss them on a wide baking tray with all the other ingredients, making sure they are in a single layer. The theory is you should dry them for a long time in a low oven, but I’ve found this process is quite forgiving in terms of oven temperatures with what I’m cooking at the moment, so long as it is not blistering hot (no more than 200 Celsius): take the tomatoes off when they look a bit dried and slightly caramelized, but not burned. You don’t want them too dry for this recipe. Keep them and all of their juices aside.

Soak the freekeh for a couple of hours in cold water. When you are ready to cook it, heat a bit of olive oil in a pot, add the chopped sun-dried tomatoes to it, then the drained grains. Toss until all translucent, then add water or stock: the grains should be barely covered. Simmer for about 30-40 minutes, covered, then taste. If needed top up with water. The grain is ready when it is bouncy and chewy, but not hard. The liquid should be almost completely absorbed: if there is more than a slight moistness around the grains, turn up the heat and make it evaporate.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add a bay leaf to it, then when it is boiling add the lentils. Cook until al dente, about 20 minutes, then drain.

Mix grain, lentils and dried tomatoes directly in the roasting tin of the tomatoes to pick up all the juices, if possible. Add a swirl of olive oil and let cool. Eat at room temperature. It keeps for a couple of days in the fridge, and it keeps getting better.

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17 Comments to “A new love: freekeh”

  1. That is an interesting ingredient. I have never eaten green wheat. A lovely dish!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. I agree with Rosa, Sounds like an interesting ingredient, but i’ll have to find it first :)

  3. It looks delicious! I will keep the recipe and try it ! :)

  4. I have heard of freekeh but never been motivated to buy some, as I always think that I eat enough wheat in bread and pasta. Your description, though, is so enticing! (You had me at “smoked,”) I am definitely going to buy some as soon as I can. Thanks for sending your recipe to My Legume Love Affair.

  5. Hi C:

    I love your “Italian” take on Freekeh!

    I’m used to the Arab recipes with lamb or chicken and onions and pine nuts sometimes with cumin and/or cinnamon etc.

    The use of the sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and oregano or thyme is lovely and very European

    I’ll bet that since the grain has deep roots in Arab cookery that it woudl be great with a sauce like murri (if you could get your hands on some – ask Charles Perry or Deana Sidney) or possibly some colatura. If you are in an experimental mood – give it a try.

    Laura

  6. I agree, I love freekeh! I love its smokiness. I still have to explore it in more salads and this looks like a perfect place to start. Thanks!

  7. I am going to ask my friends who grow wheat if they are interested in making freekeh. Of course, I would have to give them instructions on how to make it. I’ll look for it in stores here first. The bowl of freekeh looks very appealing.

  8. I had never heard of freekeh before. Thank you for describing the grain and its flavor so well.

  9. The most beautiful picture I have seen yet of freekeh! So glad you are enjoying this most ancient, rural and rustic foods that even in Lebanon growing up in the big city, we did not know until recenty!

  10. I never heard of this grain, but it sounds great!

  11. I love your introduction of freekeh. ‘A subtle whiff of smoke, the smell of a thousand and one nights…’ – so beautifully said! Will definitely look out for it on my next visit to the Middle Eastern grocer.
    And thanks for such a lovely mention on your blogroll. Thrilled :)

  12. We have this grain in Greece as well but not sure of the name if it is farro or freekeh, I have to google search it and find out the difference. Your dish looks delicious,

    • Not sure if this can help, but farro in Italian is a different grain. It is related to the grains known in English as Emmer and Spelt, and the species name is Triticum dicoccum. Although these are related to the most widespread Wheat, Triticum aestivum, they are something else. Freekeh is not another grain, it is just another way of preparing wheat, by harvesting it unripe and burning the straw, which gives it its unique flavour and texture. This is what I have understood so far, but I’m not a taxonomy expert :)

  13. All the recipes on your site look aaaamazing – and I think we may have rather similar taste in food! :). I love smoked anything (have you ever tried smoked ricotta – soooooo good!) and the idea of smoked wheat sounds heavenly!

  14. Hi!

    Susan is not able to host BWW we thought it would be nice to have a place where we can collect BWW culinary pics for her when she comes back. Here is a Flickr group if you want to join: http://www.flickr.com/groups/1925597@N21/

    Details are on my post too: http://foodblog.paulchens.org/?p=5652

    thanks for listening and I hope if you like to idea for Susan too you’ll help spread the word!

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