Move over, quinoa, and make room for freekeh (FREE-kah), another ancient “super grain.”
Freekeh seems to be taking over menus at every stage of the meal: soups, salads, mains, even desserts. But what exactly is it?
Freekeh is the name used for any wheat, usually durum, which is harvested when still green and is then fire-roasted. The flavor and texture is similar to bulgur wheat, farro or wheat berries, but freekeh has an earthy, smoky note.
The health benefit of harvesting undeveloped wheat is that it retains more of its nutrients and proteins and fewer carbohydrates than when fully-grown. It has up to four times the dietary fiber content of brown rice and contains more calcium, iron and potassium.
It is low on the glycemic index, and though it has hardly any gluten, since it is harvested before its protein develops, freekeh is not gluten-free. It has more protein than most grains, so it’s a good option for vegetarians and vegans.
While freekeh is indisputably good for you, it is most remarkable for its distinctive flavor. Freekeh may seem trendy, but it’s been a dietary staple for hundreds of years in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Egypt. Once cooked, this grain has a delicate, couscous-like texture and nutty flavor that creates a perfect background for both sweet and savory additions.
It’s delicious on its own, with olive oil, salt and fresh herbs; in grain salads, stuffing, pilafs, risotto, tabbouleh or soups. You can substitute freekeh for rice in most recipes.
Freekeh can be found in cracked or whole-grain forms. Cracked freekeh is cooked like rice in boiling water or broth at a ratio of 2 1/2 cups of water or liquid for every cup of freekeh.
Some cooks prefer to cook freekeh in a larger amount of water and then drain the freekeh as you would pasta. Simmer freekeh, covered, for 15-25 minutes. Overcooking will turn freekeh into a mushy cereal. If this happens, re-heat it and serve it for breakfast.
Cook whole freekeh in the same ratio of liquid for about 35 to 45 minutes, depending on whether you prefer it chewy or soft. The exact cooking times and liquid ratios vary a bit depending on the manufacturer, so it is a good idea to follow the directions on the package.
With its chewy texture, whole cooked freekeh is also really nice paired with yogurt and fruit in a parfait. Whole Foods sells Freekeh Foods brand 8-ounce packages in plain and herb-flavored varieties.
If you’re trying to add more whole grains to your meals and enjoy trying new ingredients, you may want to add freekeh to your list of healthy and delicious grains.
Freekeh and Mushrooms with Celery and Shallots
This salad makes a lovely accompaniment to grilled meat or fish, and on its own, it makes a good vegetarian lunch. Its acidity and light sweetness make Banfi Rosa Regale ($23) a perfect wine companion. Makes 4 servings.
2 cups whole freekeh
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
3 1/2 tablespoons good-quality sherry vinegar
2 or 3 shallots, finely chopped
3 celery stalks, finely chopped
1/2 pound button mushrooms, sliced 1/4-inch thick
2/3 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
3/4 cup tarragon leaves
3 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place the freekeh in a large pot with plenty of fresh water to cover, and simmer for 45 to 60 minutes, until softer but still with a bite. Drain in a colander and leave to cool. You need to make the dressing at least an hour before serving the salad. Whisk together the sugar and vinegar until the sugar has completely dissolved. Add the shallots and celery and leave to marinate.
To assemble the salad, put the mushrooms in a mixing bowl and toss with the dressing. Add the freekeh and then tear in the parsley leaves. Add the whole tarragon leaves, plus the olive oil and some salt and pepper. Taste, adjust the seasoning accordingly, and serve.
Source: Adapted from “Ottolenghi, the Cookbook” (TenSpeed, $35).