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Freekeh: What is it?

January 18, 2013|By Betty Hallock
  • Freekeh with pickled blueberries, chanterelles and goat cheese at Sqirl Cafe.
Freekeh with pickled blueberries, chanterelles and goat cheese at Sqirl… (Jessica Koslow )

Freekeh -- it's the grain pronounced free-ka and in Aramaic means "the rubbed one," a reference to rubbing off the roasted husk to reveal the grain, still green because it has to be harvested when young.

The rubbed one is the loved one: Described as a cousin to bulgur wheat and native to Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Egypt, it's the latest hip superfood showing up on menus such as at Jessica Koslow's Sqirl Cafe in Silver Lake. 

Koslow serves her freekeh with pickled blueberries, chanterelles and goat cheese. "It's amazing stuff," Koslow says, "I wish I could find more of it." It's known for its smoky quality, but Koslow says she likes the stuff so much because it's also slightly tart.

You can get it at health food stores -- where it's touted for its high fiber (four times as much as brown rice) and iron content -- as well as some Trader Joe's and Whole Foods markets and, of course, online.

An article in the journal Gastronomica, "Roasting Green Wheat in Galilee," is worth a read. "There is a short interval of a few weeks during which the mature wheat, though still green, is soft and full of starches and protein," the author, Abbie Rosner, writes. "This is the only moment at which the wheat can be eaten fresh from the stalk, and the time when freekeh can be prepared."

Freekeh is popular in Middle Eastern and North African dishes: pigeon stuffed with green wheat, green wheat pilaf with roasted lamb, spring peas and pine nuts, a soup of green wheat with chicken. Freekeh, according to Wikipedia, is mentioned in an early 13th-century Baghdad cookery book in a recipe of meat fried in oil and braised with water, salt and cinnamon bark. Then dried coriander is stirred in with freekeh, cooked and served with cumin, cinnamon and fresh lamb tail fat.

That's the beauty of freekeh. It goes well with either lamb tail fat or pickled blueberries.

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