Falling for Freekeh

It might seem bonkers to be writing about a grain, a green wheat infact, that’s virtually impossible to track down (I bought mine from the fabulous Ottolenghi online store) but Freekeh, Freekah, Frikeeh, Farik, or however you like to spell it, is really worth tasting. You’ll find it in Middle Eastern shops and, if you’re lucky enough to live in Bristol, at the fabulous Sweetmart. It’s tipped to be the next big “superfood” so no doubt it will be on the healthfood shop and supermarket shelves very soon too.

There’s nothing new about Freekeh, it’s been prepared in the Middle East for thousands of years but now the Aussies are on the case as well, as its popularity soars. The green wheat is harvested before it’s ripe and mature and then roasted over wood fires to remove the chaff, leaving you with stunningly smoky and nutritious grains. You can buy it cracked or whole. I went for whole grains even though they take about 30-40 minutes to cook (cracked cooks in about half the time) as I wanted to keep a bit of chew in my salad.

Our friends, the Pearsons, were meant to be coming for lunch on Sunday, but with sun on the horizon at last and our very small (let’s say bijou rather than pokey) city garden we decided to take our food to their airier, roomier and infinitely tidier abode in Tetbury. I’m not jealous at all! So we rocked up with my tripod, camera and an entire basket of cooked ingredients still requiring assembly. It was all rather idyllic, sipping chilled summery rosé whilst the children set up a woodlouse theme park in the garden and the birds seemed to be on a mission to out-chirp each other up in the leafy boughs above the terrace. After just a few minutes and a bit of minor faffing, as I took a couple of photos, we had this (and I’ll say so myself) very good salad.

Chicken, Roasted Roots and Freekeh Salad (Serves 4 as a main)

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It makes sense to cook extra vegetables whenever you’ re roasting a chicken or joint of meat. My carrots and beetroot took up a spare shelf in the oven whilst my chicken was on the go, so that the following day I had everything ready on hand for the salad.

200 g freekeh
a handful of green beans
1/2 red onion, finely diced
3 – 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper
2 tsps Ras al hanout  (or a mix of cumin, coriander & a pinch of cinnamon)
About 1/2 of a small roasted chicken, ideally leftovers
5 or 6 small beetroot, roasted wrapped in foil for about 30 minutes or until tender
6 small carrots, peeled and roasted with a drizzle of oil for about 20 minutes
Plenty of fresh mint and parsley

Rinse the freekeh and then pour it into a saucepan with a pinch of salt, cover in just about double its volume of water and bring it up to the boil. Give the grains a quick stir once boiling and then put on the lid and simmer for about 30-40 minutes until cooked but still slightly chewy. You may need to add a little water to the pan as you go but ideally the grains will have absorbed the water and there will be no need to drain them.

If you are using green beans, as I did, you can place a steamer on top of the freekeh and cook the beans for a few minutes on top of the pan. Refresh the beans in cool water as soon as they are tender.

Add red onion, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and the Ras al hanout whilst the freekeh is still warm so that the flavours can mingle and develop.

Once ready to serve, shred your chicken and arrange the carrots (cut in half lengthwise), the beetroot (no need to peel as long as you washed it well), the green beans and herbs over the grains. Play around with the seasoning and then I can’t help but splash a bit of extra virgin olive oil on top.

Chargrilled Courgette, Butternut and Feta salad with Freekeh
(Serves 4 as a light main)

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I’ve fallen back in love with the garden since Imi and I did some feverish weeding and planting yesterday. A six-year-old’s excitement and enthusiasm is just so fantastically infectious although she does seem slightly more excited about our very healthy snail population than the seedlings. Anyhow I fancied a light lunch outside and had plenty of left over freekeh (I’d definitely always cook up a double batch) in the fridge. I had a couple of courgettes and a small butternut squash from my veg box just shrieking to be eaten and so this salad was born. I devoured it as a veggie lunch but a lamb kebab straight from the barbie would turn this into a feast.

200g freekeh (cook as above) or a few spoonfuls of leftover grain from the fridge.
1/2 red onion, finely diced
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
200 g butternut squash, peeled and finely sliced
2-3 courgettes, sliced finely lengthwise
1 small hot red chilli pepper, finely diced
1/2 tsp cinnamon ( or to taste)
a good handful of mint leaves
150g feta cheese

Mix up the cooked freekeh with the onion, oil, vinegar and seasoning.

Toss the squash and courgette slice with a dash of oil, literally a dash or you’ll smoke out the kitchen. Get a ridged griddle pan really hot and sear the vegetables on both sides until nicely charred with stripes. Don’t overcook, it’s good to leave a bit of bite.

Now stir most of the vegetables along with the chilli, cinnamon and mint into the freekeh. Arrange the remaining vegetables on top and crumble over the feta.

& what to do with the rest of the packet…..

Substitute freekeh for bulghur wheat in Tabbouleh or any other Middle Eastern or Turkish style salads.
Use as a stuffing for peppers, tomatoes or even a chicken with dried fruits, nuts and seeds.

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