Are you acquainted with freekeh (pronounced free-kah)?
Freekeh is an old grain. Really, really old. We’re talking ancient Egypt.
A quick but interesting freekeh history:
‘The story goes that in 2300 B.C., a nation in the Eastern Mediterranean was anticipating an attack on their city. Worried about losing their crops and starving, they picked the green heads of wheat and stored them. When the city came under fire, the green wheat was burnt. The people discovered that, when rubbed, the green grains inside were still fit to eat. In the ancient Aramaic language freekeh means ‘to rub.’ Now we know that this process also confers many nutritional benefits.’
Freekeh is wheat based and, so, yes, it contains the forbidden, dare I say, gluten. Freekeh is harvested when young and green, which allows it to maintain more of its vitamins, minerals and protein than in its mature form, and then roasted, I particularly like its toasty, nutty flavors.
I made this freekeh salad while in Ireland earlier this year, but never got around to posting it. Stumbled upon freekeh at my favorite neighborhood grocery store/wine bar in Dublin, Fallon & Byrne.
Unfortunately, have not been able to track down freekeh in the D.C. area. I’ve made the rounds to all the usual grocery stores. Am thinking that a trek to a couple of Middle Eastern markets in the suburbs may be required.
Darn, should have brought a few bags of freekeh home with me from Dublin; although, not sure I would have had room, as my bag was already WAY over the weight limit. Ended up paying the extra baggage fee for all my treasures I accumulated during my three-month stay — including the blue and white dish (pictured above) and the cutting board (pictured below), the latter made from a fallen horse chestnut tree.
Here’s a good article in the Washington Post I recently stumbled upon: ‘How to shop in a Middle Eastern market.’ The article includes a list of places at which to seek out ingredients (for those of you in the D.C. area). Fingers crossed that one of these places stocks freekeh.
In place of freekeh, you could use wheat berries, kamut, farro, spelt berries, a coarse bulgur, etc.
This is sorrel…
I also added sorrel to my freekeh salad. Sorrel is a really interesting plant. It’s in the knotwood family, along with rhubarb and buckwheat. Sorrel resembles spinach, but has a taste all its own. When you take a bite, it hits you with an unexpected tart, lemony flavor. Keep your eyes open for sorrel at your local farmers’ market.
If you can’t find sorrel, substitute another green. Purslane (a common edible weed) would be a wonderful stand-in for sorrel. Purslane shares some of sorrel’s lemony, citrus qualities. Or, you could go an entirely different route, for example, with a peppery arugula or bitter dandelion green.
The salad is topped with a simple yogurt-lemon-garlic sauce and toasted, chopped pistachios for a bit of crunch. Any number of toasted nuts would work (e.g., toasted almonds, walnuts, cashews, etc.).
Pomegranate seeds would also be a nice addition. Some lemon zest or even preserved lemon zest would lend a welcome acidity to the salad.
Learn how to make preserved lemons here.
Ancient Grains Salad — Freekeh
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup green lentils
1 cup whole freekeh (or wheat berries, spelt berries, etc.)
1/4 heaping teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 heaping teaspoon allspice
2 cups vegetable stock or water
3/4 cup sorrel, chifonade
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons mint, chopped
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
Yogurt sauce (recipe below)
toasted pistachios, chopped for garnish (or hazelnuts, almonds, cashews)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Optional: pomegranate seeds, lemon zest, or preserved lemon zest
1/2 cup yogurt
1 small garlic clove, crushed to a paste
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Mix the yogurt, garlic, and lemon. Season with salt and pepper.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and butter. When the butter melts, add the onions. Season with salt and pepper. Saute the onions until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Set aside.
Cook the green lentils. Rinse the lentils. Place in a pot and cover with salted water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer. Continue to cook until the lentils are tender, but not mushy (the lentils should have a bit of a bite), about 20 minutes. Drain and add the lentils to the bowl with the onions.
Cook the freekeh. Place the stock (or water), freekeh, cinammon, and allspice in a pot, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and continue cooking until the freekeh is tender, about 30 minutes (cracked freekeh will take less time). Drain any excess liquid and add the freekeh to the bowl with the lentils and onions.
When cool, add the sorrel and fresh herbs. Mix to combine. Top with the yogurt sauce. Sprinkle with toasted nuts (pomegranate seeds, lemon zest, or finely chopped preserved lemon if using).