We are well into my favourite season - Autumn (Fall) and that means it's time to get some good soups bubbling away in the kitchen.
Freekeh soup with chicken is delicate and nutty at the same time full of substantial flavours and textures. It's not a soup that you have and feel more hungry afterwards.
You can also make it with meat or vegetables instead but chicken is the most popular version.
What is freekeh?
Freekeh is a wheat variety that has been harvested earlier than your standard wheat.
It is then rubbed hence the name 'freekeh' to remove the shells and crack the grain through the process.
The cracked wheat is then roasted which gives it a distinct 'smokey' taste that you don't find with other grains and pulses.
Where can I find freekeh
Freekeh has become more and more popular and you can even find it in supermarkets now. However, 'freekeh baladiya' is the local variety made by small scale producers and has the exceptional freekeh flavour (nutty, smokey and savoury).
It has become ever harder to source this local variety of freekeh with the onset of Covid. Some really high end supermarkets will offer you freekeh in fancy boxes but when I tried it, it tasted almost the same as wheat and obviously had not been harvested the proper way.
I guess the next best bet to finding authentic freekeh is to check out your local Middle Eastern grocery store. You can usually find some in the grain aisles and will have to try out a few until you find the best brand.
You can sometimes find a similar version under 'baharat' in the supermarket which just means 'spices' in Arabic.
The other spice that gives freekeh soup it's distinct taste is ground cardamom. It too is subtle and earthy and complements the freekeh and chicken wonderfully.
The chicken broth
This freekeh soup is simmered in homemade chicken stock and the chicken is shredded and added to the freekeh soup as well.
I have written a post on how to make the best chicken stock/broth but have included a speedy version here.
Usually you would have to simmer the chicken for an hour and a half but in this version you only need to do it for about half the time.
It's always a good idea to add a few aromatics to your chicken broth such as peppercorns, cardamom, bay leaves, cinnamon and cloves. You can also add star anise if you have some too.
The main vegetables needed for a good chicken stock is an onion and a carrot. Celery will also add flavour and you can even freeze it to have it on standby.
I also like to add a sprig of rosemary too which goes well with chicken.
Do I have to make my own chicken broth?
You might as well make your own broth as you need to braise the chicken to use later in the soup.
However if you already have some leftover rotiserrie chicken and don't have time I guess you could use ready made stock.
But these ready made stocks scare me as they have all sorts of weird ingredients in them and always way too much salt. When you make your own stock you know exactly what's gone into it.
Tips on making the best freekeh soup
Its a good habit to sift through your batch of freekeh grain to check there are no stones or small pieces.
The way freekeh is prepared means that it is more likely than other grains to have small bits and bobs which you should double check.
Freekeh cooks in about 20 minutes like rice although you should always taste it before you turn the fire off.
Before you add salt to the soup, taste your stock to see how it is before you add any more.
Depending on how you like your soups, add water if you like a thinner consistency. Bear in mind when you add the shredded chicken it will also get thicker.
Soup is not just about adding lots of different elements, you need to simmer them together so they exchange flavours.
Freekeh soup might require a few extra steps but you will understand why when it warms your insides on a chilly autumn day.
Lebanese freekeh soup recipe with chicken
For the chicken broth
- 1 quartered baby chicken or 2-3 chicken breasts
- 1 onion peeled halved
- 1 carrot peeled
- 2-3 cardamom pods
- 5-7 black peppercorns
- 2-3 bay leaves
- 1 small cinnamon stick
- 1.5 litres of water
- 1 tbsp of salt
For the soup
- 2 onions chopped
- 2 cups freekeh
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp 7 spice
- 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
- Salt to taste
- 1 tbsp butter
To make the chicken broth
Flash fry the quartered chicken on high heat in a nonstick pan with a little regular olive oil for a few minutes
Transfer to a large stock pot and add the peeled onion, carrot, cardamom, peppercorns, cinnamon stick, bay leaves and salt
Boil around 1.5 litres of water in a kettle and add to the chicken pot. Bring to the boil again for a few minutes then simmer for around 45 minutes
Once the stock has finished simmering, take out the chicken pieces and shred the meat. Cover and set aside
Pass the remaining liquid through a fine sieve and set the clear broth aside.
To prepare the soup
Clean the freekeh by sifting the grains on a tray with your fingers several times over making sure to remove any small stones or rubble
Wash the freekeh several times and soak in some warm water for half an hour before cooking
Sauté the chopped onions in about 3-4 tbsp of regular olive oil on medium heat until golden
Drain the freekeh using a fine sieve and add to the onions along with the spices (black pepper, turmeric, 7 spice, ground cardamom).
Sauté for five minutes and then add the clear chicken broth and bring to the boil
Simmer for around 20 minutes then add the shredded chicken for the last ten minutes
Taste the soup to make sure the freekeh is well cooked and adjust the salt and water levels if necessary
Add a tablespoon of butter just before you turn the heat off, making sure you stir well.
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