Freekeh is one of my favourite foods of all time and really deserves the category of super grain. You can learn how to bring out the best of this ingredient with this recipe and complement the distinct flavour freekah has.
What is Freekeh?
Essentially, it is a cracked wheat that has been harvested while the grain is still green. It goes through a special process of being roasted and then 'rubbed' which is where it gets it's name from. The rubbing process removes the shells and cracks the wheat along the way.
It has a beautiful smokey flavour to it and has been eaten in the Middle East for hundreds of years to this day.
What are the health benefits?
Freekeh, like most other grains is a good source of fibre. It is also rich in calcium, potassium, iron and zinc. It has more nutrients in it than your standard wheat grain which is why it's known as a super grain.
Where can I find freekeh?
Whilst freekeh is becoming more popular in the West with the rise of Middle Eastern cuisine, I still have to smuggle bags of it into the UK. I managed to find a pack of it in one fancy food store but the smokiness was diluted and you couldn't get that distinct nutty taste.
As it becomes more common, you will start to find better quality ingredients available. Though don't be fooled if it just tastes like regular wheat.
What ways can Freekeh be cooked?
Freekeh is most commonly made into a soup or cooked like rice. You can cook it in similar ways to more popular grains such as wheat or barley, so you can add it to stews or salads if that's the kind of thing you like.
The more you start using it in your everyday foods the more you will understand how much cooking times it needs and this will make it easier to incorporate it into lots of different dishes.
What is the best way to prepare freekeh?
If you get a bag from your connection in a Lebanese village you have to really clean it properly several times to make sure there aren't any small stones or rubble. It's a bit of a process but that's how much I love freekeh i'm prepared to suffer for the results.
Can I make it with meat instead of chicken?
Yes you certainly can though I prefer it with chicken to meat, as I feel it needs subtle flavours that won't drown out the taste of the grain. I've never seen it prepared with fish but there's a first time for everything I guess! It goes very well with roasted vegetables that also have a smokey nutty taste so you could always toss it into a roasted veg side or salad.
Do I have to make my own chicken stock from scratch?
The simple answer to that is no. You don't. But you should if you can. Homemade stock is unrivalled in it's cleanliness and is way more healthy as you can control the amount of salt.
You can find my chicken stock recipe here. I've provided a summarised version in this recipe and you can make it ahead, even freezing it beforehand.
How should I serve freekeh?
Adding assorted toasted nuts (pistachios, cashews, pine nuts) enhances the nutty flavour. Dry roast these in a non stick pan for a few minutes until golden.
The final special touch is to add a drizzle of browned butter at the end. Heat up a few tablespoons of butter on low heat until the butter starts to froth and turns to a lovely golden colour. Be careful not to burn it as it can catch pretty quickly so keep your eye on it.
Any more tips?
You should store it in a dark place in an airtight container. You can also freeze freekeh believe it or not, both cooked or uncooked. Add a little water if you want to reheat it, although I doubt there will be any left.
Freekeh cooked in chicken stock topped with nuts and braised chicken
- 1 cup freekeh
- 2-3 cups chicken broth
- 2 onions chopped
- 1 tsp 7 spice
- 1 tspn salt
- Regular olive oil
- Handful of braised chicken
- Handful of assorted nuts cashews, pine, pistachios
- 1 tbsp butter + 3 tbsp browned butter
For the Chicken Broth
- 1 chicken, quartered
- 2 litres of water
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 6 peppercorns
- 2 cardamom pods
- 3 cloves
- 1 tbsp of salt
- 1 large onion halved
- 1 carrot peeled
- 1 celery stick
To prepare the chicken broth
Flash fry the chicken quarters in a pan with some olive oil on high heat for a few minutes till browned on the outside. Transfer to a large stock pot with the onion, carrot, celery, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, salt and water.
Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer for around an hour
Clean the chicken and set aside to top the freekeh later.
To prepare the Freekeh
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 onions in 2 drizzles of regular olive oil (3-4 tbspns) on low heat until caramalised. Don't rush this stage which may take 15+ minutes
Warm up the chicken stock in a separate pot
Drain the freekeh using a fine sieve and add to the onions along with the 7 spice. Sauté for five minutes and add enough of the warm chicken stock to cover
Add a tablespoon of butter, mix and put a lid on. Cook for around 30-40 minutes until the grain is well cooked, adding some stock if the mixture becomes too dry. Adjust the salt if necessary
Melt some butter on very low heat until it starts to froth and turn brown. This should take 5-10 minutes.
Spoon some of the freekeh onto a plate and place some of the braised chicken on top along with the toasted nuts
Drizzle the melted brown butter on top and serve immediately.
You can freeze the extra chicken broth for use in other dishes
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