Introducing Freekeh, the Hip Grain of 2012

Vered Guttman
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Vered Guttman

Are you into quinoa?

Thats sooo 2011! Let me introduce you to the hip grain of 2012 - the freekeh. This smoked green wheat that comes from the levant was lately on the shortlist of Bon Appétit magazine for pantry staples for a healthier eating and appeared suddenly on the shelves of Whole Foods and Trader Joes across the country.

While freekeh is relatively new in the U.S., it is in fact an ancient grain that has been used throughout the Middle East. So ancient, in fact, it is mentioned in the bible in Leviticus, including even a description of how it is prepared. (Leviticus, chapter 2, v.14).

Israelis, masters of spotting culinary trends, saw the freekeh phenomenon spreading throughout the country a few years ago. It was around for centuries, but was introduced to the masses by celebrity chef Erez Komarovsky, who learned about the freekeh from the Arabs living in the Galilee. It wasnt long before you could find freekeh in fashionable restaurants and grocery stores across Tel Aviv.

Freekeh, winter root vegetable and pomegranate saladCredit: Vered Guttman

Traditionally, freekeh was prepared in the Middle East by picking the wheat stalks while still young and green, smoking the whole stalks over bonfire (many times still in the field), then grinding them. Because the grain is picked while still green, it has more minerals and vitamins than it would have if picked later, and 4 times the fiber than brown rice. When I tried the freekeh for the first time in Nazareth a couple of years ago, the smoky flavor was very evident and took over the stew. The freekeh thats sold in the U.S. is usually roasted instead of smoked, and its flavor is more neutral.

Freekeh can be ground thick or thin, just like its sister, bulghur wheat, although I could only find the thick type in my area. Thick freekeh is more versatile and can be used for stew, salads, stuffed vegetable and meat, like the famous lamb neck stuffed with freekeh, which is popular among the Arabs in the Galilee. The thin freekeh is usually used to make soup. Most recipes simply call for cooking the freekeh in water or broth and spices. A wonderful and simple comfort food.

You can get freekeh at your local Middle Eastern store, Trader Joes and some Whole Foods.

Prepare the freekeh and winter root vegetable salad for shabbat dinner together with:

Pan-fried Moroccan chicken

and winter fruit salad with pomegranate for dessert.

Shabbat shalom!