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freekeh-fig-salad-imageMove over quinoa, there’s a ‘new’ ‘grain’ in town.

Well, actually it’s not new, and quinoa is not a grain. But you know what I mean. Of course I’m talking about freekeh. And just to confuse us further freekeh is not  a grain, but a process. Actually it sounds to me more like a dance from the 70s, but never mind. 

Freekeh comes from the Arabic verb “to rub,” and applies to young, green wheat. It is grown extensively in Levantine Basin countries where its first recorded use was in 2300 BC (read the history here).

This wonderful form of wholewheat – usually pronounced free-kah – is gaining kudos not only in terms of nutrition, but also its unique taste. What makes it stand out from all of the other glorious whole-grains is its nutty, toasted, almost smoky, taste. This is because after harvesting and drying in the sun the immature wheat is burned on the stalk, turning it a deep golden brown. Separated from the chaff the freekeh is then polished and cracked. Pretty much all of these processes happen in the fields where it grows. It is delicious and versatile stuff, too. Janet at Nutrition Unplugged calls it “the smoky cousin to bulgur wheat.”raw-freekeh-image

Nutritionally it is probably most comparable to quinoa although, because it is wheat, it is not suitable for those who can’t tolerate gluten. Interestingly there are studies investigating whether the immaturity of the protein locked in the grain, as well as the burning itself, may lessen the gluten. In the Middle East and North Africa it is used extensively in pilafs, as a stuffing for vegetables, underneath roasted meats, as a substitution for rice and couscous, in tabbouleh and as a kind of porridge.

I have only recently been playing around with freekeh but I’m already thinking about getting more. And that’s the thing, it doesn’t seem to be easily available in UK shops, although it is available at Real Foods (2 Edinburgh shops and an online shop). Doubtless this will change, but please don’t go hunting the aisles at Sainsburys or Tesco looking for it. It ain’t there. I’ve fired off pleading letters to the supermarkets to get it stocked. It’s that good. UPDATE: as of summer 2014, most large supermarkets in the UK have freekeh! Yay!

Anyhoo, after putting you through a massively self-indulgent, prosey post last week, I will do the blogging equivalent of shutting my gob and just let you at the recipe. If you can’t get hold of  freekeh please try this with bulgur wheat or quinoa (toast lightly first if you can), or one of the whole-grain mixes available at most supermarkets. Just cook them as the packet directs, perhaps shaving off a a few minutes to keep some texture. I always find packet directions give me mushy grains – yuck.

Any freekeh freaks out there? How do you like to cook yours?

freekeh-fig-salad-imageLebanese Freekeh and Fig Salad

 Last year: Apple and Oat Bars – we love these!

Two years ago: Japanese-style Butternut Squash and Black Bean Tacos

Miss R’s track of the week: Hudson Taylor – Second Best (which freekeh is most assuredly not!)

 If you can’t get this gloriously smoky, toasty whole-grain (sniff) sub with quinoa or bulgur wheat. Try to toast these before using to subtly mimic the deep flavour of freekeh. In lieu of fresh figs you could try plums or nectarines, but the figs – all smoky and caramelly from the griddle  – are fabulous. If you are short of time just use the fruit as is, but griddling – ooh la la

 This recipe is inspired by the grain salads found in The Lebanese Kitchen by Salma Hage.

1 tbsp olive oil (plus extra)

1 large (red) onion, coarsely chopped

½ tsp Lebanese spice mix such as mine (it is the baharat -spice mix – for my shawarma) or Steenbergs OR ras-al-hanout

125g (3/4 cup) freekeh, sifted

1 tsp dried mint

2 tbsp dried sour cherries, barberries or mulberries (I like Pearls of Samarkand brand available at Real Foods)

1 tbsp each chopped fresh mint and parsley

2 ripe, black figs, sliced in quarters lengthways

4 tbsp feta cheese (or goats cheese) – optional

1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Squeeze of lemon – optional

Spicy or sour leaves – such as rocket or sorrel – optional

1. Heat the oil over a medium flame in a saucepan; add the onion and a good three-finger pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion smells sweet, not raw.

2. To the pan add the spice mix; stir around for a few seconds then add the freekeh and 350ml  (1 and ¾ cups) water. Bring to the boil then cover and simmer gently for 10 minutes, or until the water is mostly absorbed and the freekeh is tender but still ‘to the bite.’ Turn off the heat and let the freekeh steam under a lid while you get on with the figs.

3. Heat a griddle pan over a medium flame and lay on the fig slices. Cook for 2 minutes on one side and one minute on the other. If your pan is quite old perhaps rub the ridge with oil beforehand. Carefully lift off the cooked figs and set aside.

4. Fluff the freekeh with a fork then stir in the dried mint, sour cherries, fresh mint and parsley. Fork through most of the cheese. Taste for seasoning, perhaps adding more salt and some pepper.

5. Divide the salad between two bowls and top with the remaining cheese, toasted sesame seeds and the fig slices. Drizzle with oil if you like. Serve with a lemon wedge and a handful of bitter or sour leaves.

Serves 2.

Other freekeh recipes to try:

Sorrel-Freekeh Tabouli via Robin Asbell’s The New Vegetarian

Roasted Green Wheat Chicken via Taste of Beirut

Freekeh Salad with Sweet Potatoes and Preserved Lemons via The Atlantic

Artichoke Freekeh Risotto via David Lebovitz

I am hooking up with a couple of new-to-me roundups. First up is Real Food Forager for the Fat Tuesday Forager Festival – sounds awesome! Then over to Real Food Wednesdays at Kelly the Kitchen Kop. And might as well finish up the week with Simple Lives Thursday hosted by Real Food For Less Money and My Humble Kitchen, and Fight Back Friday sponsored by Food Renegade. All of these challenges are home to real food bloggers. I hope I fit in and the freekeh isn’t too freaky 😀fresh-figs-image

49 thoughts on “Lebanese Freekeh and Fig Salad – Freekehing Fabulous

  1. moominkat says:

    I do like freekeh, very easy to cook: I use like risotto rice, chucking in a handful for about 15 mins. I buy it from local Asian stores.

    1. That’s a great tip about visiting Asian stores. Probably a good price, too. Thanks!

  2. Looks delish!

  3. Nancy says:

    Looks “freekehing” delicious! But wait…quinoa’s not a grain? Hmm, need to up my intelligence factor 😉

  4. Deena Kakaya says:

    Wow, how stunning. Personally I think fruity salads are hard to pull of because you have to think about the balances a bit more; clearly you have done a stunning job xx

    1. Thanks Deena, but ripe black figs are such a gift to work with (or eat greedily out of hand) that they are at home pretty much anywhere, I think. Glad you like it. I hope you make some Deena version of it!

      1. Deena Kakaya says:

        I love that line about making a Deena version, lol! Did you see what I did to the noodle soup? Dangerous stuff 😉 x

  5. narf77 says:

    I feel a kaftan moment coming on ;). Gotta say my only experience with freekah was a gloriously decorative hippy box of the stuff that I bought when I was young and easily influenced by pretty boxes. I really enjoyed it but went back to buy more and the pretty boxed hippy range was gone. A bit too much for the local populace methinks. I noticed I can get it at my local health food shop so I will toss some in a bag next time I visit and will give this a whirl around the flag pole. I am going to have to sub something for the gorgeous figs though as they aren’t in season here. I have about 10 tiny figlets on my teeny fig tree but they are a LONG way off from being something I would want to eat so I may even have to sub soaked dried figs. Might try soaking them in something interesting. Another great recipe, lots of lovely links and a wonderful song to skip around the kitchen to as you cook. Holistic food blogging is your forte ma’am! 🙂

    1. I wonder if your stone fruits are coming through yet as peaches would be divine, Fran. I like the combo of sweet fruit and tart dried berries so hopefully some combo or other will suit your upcoming summer season. You lucky thing you! And glad you approve of Miss R’s choice of tracks. She’s so on it with the music! PS You don’t want to see me in a kaftan, that’s for sure!

      1. narf77 says:

        My stone fruit are still flowers on my fruit trees. My cherry tree is a mass of blossoms and the pears are out in force but no chance of fruit till about December to be honest. My daughters have a greengage plum, an apricot and a lovely black plum tree at their home and Stewart and Kelsey might bother to go out the back and pick them (as their unit is right next to the trees). My lazy daughters don’t venture out the back much ;). I actually HAD a kaftan when I was about 12. I think Earl would consider it a red rag to a bull if I was to wear something so voluminous now 😉

      2. Sounds like our April in Scotland, when everything in the garden is just whispered promises. Come back to this recipe when all is abundant and ravishingly succulent

      3. narf77 says:

        About February then 😉

  6. Cheryl says:

    I want to make this, it looks delish, and so pretty!

  7. Those figs are gorgeous! I’m not sure whether I’ve seen freekeh around Stockholm or not, but after hearing you sing it’s praises I think it warrants an investigation. I may just have to try it with another grain in the mean time, or just cram some of those figs into my mouth straight up. Yum!

    1. Do both! Seriously, I bet you can find freekeh in a shop that specialises in Middle Eastern and North African foods. Worth seeking out. IF you have difficulty I will send you a ‘teaser’ box x PS still loving my swedish socks!!

      1. Oh yeah! Middle Eastern foods are actually quite easy to come by here. It may be staring me in the face and I just haven’t opened my eyes. I’ll take a better look!

  8. An outstanding salad! Bursting with flavor and nutrition and those oh-so-luscious figs! I am very fond of whole grain salads as they are are wonderful background for everything seasonal!

    1. They are indeed. Grains and quinoa are great all-weather choices for salads – just add seasonal produce!

  9. LOVE it. Great recipe, fabulous photos.

  10. Kellie, I haven’t seen freekeh for years, since it made its debut in the 90s…. love the title of your post. The salad sounds amazing, and the figs… mmmmmm. Love the photos too!

  11. Lucky you with the Turkish supermarket. I would never be out of it if we had one 😀

    1. It’s amazing, I could spend hours in there!

  12. Kellie I love the title of this post 🙂 it looks and sounds amazing, but then I have an incredible soft spot for fresh figs and would happily eat them with anything! I wonder if a handful of brambles would work in this?

    1. Yup! That would be brilliant. The more the merrier when it comes to seasonal produce, imho xxx

  13. Nazima says:

    Looks fabulous. Like you I mainly eat figs as they come but this sounds lovely and I have not tried freekeh so will have to give it a go!

  14. That Freekah preparation does look interesting. It really is intrinsic to the Arabic culture but you know what? In more than two decades of living in the Gulf, I have come across it just a couple of times.What could one ascribe that to?


    1. Over-familiarity? I think sometimes we don’t always appreciate what we have right under our noses. Or fields! We all like what seems new and exotic, don’t we? I wonder if it is still popular in traditional homes?

  15. Love the idea of this grain which is slightly smoky in flavour. I haven’t come across it but have read about it and think it sounds like something I must try. Griddled figs look so tempting with it. A wonderful idea 🙂

    1. Hi Laura, you can order some through Real Foods (in a link – not sponsored, I just like them!) or through others on the internet. You would love it and so would your children, if they already like grainy things. Gotta love griddled fruit!

  16. Although freekeh will never pass my lips, this is a gorgeous grainy salad, and I would love to make it with my good friend quinoa, or perhaps some chewy forbidden rice! Loved your popcorn post BTW-great story 🙂

    1. Do you know, I was thinking of you (yes, you!) when I mentioned quinoa as an option. I’m sure in SoCal you get such amazing quinoa options that there will be something smokey and lovely to imitate the freekehness here. Cheers Miss EA

  17. Amanda says:

    Yum, Kellie! This looks incredible. I just might have to try it tonight!

  18. Reblogged this on kimberlyferman2013's Blog and commented:
    Best dish out there and guess what! It’s not even fattening!

  19. I LOVE Freekeh!

  20. Jayne says:

    This sounds so good, you even made the figs look good and Im not a fig fan! I have yet to try Freekah, I know Ottolenghi sells it, but Im glad to see in your comments that local Asian stores may have it. It will be my next mission to find some!

  21. forkandbowl says:

    I just discovered freekeh, and I am loving it! So far, I have tried it as a replacement for rice in jambalaya, and as a salad. Your salad looks absolutely beautiful – I would love to try your recipe!

  22. chefsoundar says:

    Reblogged this on chefsoundar and commented:
    Great recipe

  23. Egginon says:

    Wow I love figs! This looks amazing!

  24. Lesley says:

    Good news! Marks & Spencer’s have now started stocking Freekeh!

    1. Woo hoo! I have seen it and it’s the good stuff, too! Enjoy wisely ;-))) I halved a creamy-naughty burrata cheese (got at Waitrose) with Miss R at lunch in company of rocket, some beetroot, mint and smoked chilli oil/honey/lime. I need to refrain from eating the remainder of the day. (joke) Mr A is away on Monster Bike and Hike so if you send me a email with your phone number through my contact page (at top left of blog header) I will see it and give you a bell. Hope to see you soon for more food chat etc x

  25. Peggy says:

    Looks yummy–but what should I do with the figs if I don’t have a griddle pan? 🙁

    1. Hi Peggy. Good question. Add a tiny bit of oil to a hot pan and just sear them to caramelise. Or perhaps roast them in the oven until just softened.

  26. mihrank says:

    Farīk (ﻔﺭﻴﻚ), the classical Arabic spelling, but known in colloquial Arabic from Syria to Algeria as fireek, freekeh, freeky, or freek is an immature hard wheat (durum wheat or semolina, Triticum turgidum var. durum) that goes through a roasting process in its production.

    The food is commonly prepared from immature grains of durum wheat when the grains are still milky. The stage at which farīk is prepared is very critical. The moment the leaves start to turn yellow and the seeds are still soft and creamy is the ideal moment. The wheat is harvested and arranged in small piles and left to dry in the sun for a day

    Finally, the origin of Freekeh and big salad is Palestinian!

  27. I’m so glad you linked to this in today’s post – another one to save and make 🙂

    1. It’s an oldie but a goodie 🙂

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