It's Freekeh, But The Kids Like It

What to do when rice becomes humdrum.

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There was a point at our house when my kids said they’d had enough rice to last a lifetime and I should never make it again.

Rice had been my go-to side dish, the dish I cooked 3-4 times a week and could probably prepare while still sleeping. Why did I make it so often? Partly because rice goes with everything. But mostly because my kids ate it without any fuss, which, as any parent knows, is an important consideration at the end of the day.

Fortunately the whole grain revolution was at hand. Scientists and food experts of all kinds were singing the praises of quinoa and spelt, bulgur and barley.

Voila! Dozens of new side dish possibilities. With nutritional benefits too.

My kids liked most of them. Is that a bonus or what?

These days you don’t have to scout out whole grains at health food stores. Most of them are available right there in the food aisles of your local supermarket.

The “newest” one you might have heard about is freekeh.

Freekeh is a kind of wheat, specifically, immature wheat that’s harvested while still green, then roasted to bring out a nutty, smoky flavor.

There’s nothing new about this grain; it was known in ancient times (even referred to in Leviticus 2:14). It’s a nutritional powerhouse too: high in fiber and low on the glycemic index; a good source of calcium and iron. It has more protein than most grains, so it’s a good choice for vegetarians and vegans. It’s wheat though, so it isn’t gluten-free.

Maybe best of all, for people who love good food and enjoy trying new ingredients, freekeh is a culinary marvel. For main courses and side dishes. You can even cook it up like cereal and eat it for breakfast.

But for me, now that it is summertime and I’m into warm weather cooking, I will use freekeh to make all sorts of salads.

Most recipes say to cook whole freekeh for about 45 minutes. We prefer it somewhat chewier and time it for about 30-35 minutes instead. Cracked freekeh cooks in about 20 minutes. The basics for salad are simple: cook the grain, add an oniony ingredient (such as scallion or Vidalia) and chopped cooked or raw vegetables and fruit. Add nuts if you like.

Leftover meat, fish or crumbled cheese. Raisins or other chopped dried fruit. Season the salad with fresh herbs. Dress it with vinaigrette.

The possibilities are endless and so is the enjoyment.

You can find freekeh at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Kings, Sautters, Wegmans and many other markets and online at Amazon, freekehlicious, igourmet and www.freekeh-foods.com, among others.

Ronnie Fein is a cookbook author and cooking teacher in Stamford. Her latest book is Hip Kosher. Visit her food blog, Kitchen Vignettes, at www.ronniefein.com and follow on Twitter at @RonnieVFein.

Serve up this chicken freekeh salad with mango, dates, pistachios and meyer lemon vinaigrette

Ingredients: 
1 cup whole freekeh
2 cups water or chicken stock
2 cups diced, cooked chicken
1 cup chopped dates, preferably medjool
3/4 cup pistachio nuts
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 ripe mango, peeled and diced
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cip minced fresh parsley, preferably flat leaf
2 tbsp chopped fresh mint
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup Meyer lemon juice
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
Salt to taste
Cayenne pepper
Recipe Steps: 
Place the freekeh and water or stock in a saucepan over high heat. Bring the liquid to a boil, stir, cover the pan and lower the heat to a simmer. Cook for about 30-35 minutes or until the grains are tender but still somewhat firm. If any liquid remains, strain the freekeh. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool.
Place the cooked freekeh in a bowl. Add the chicken, dates, pistachio nuts, raisins, mango, red onion, parsley and mint. Toss ingredients gently to distribute them evenly.
Combine the olive oil, Meyer lemon juice and white wine vinegar and whisk vigorously. Pour the dressing over the salad. Toss the ingredients and season to taste with salt and cayenne pepper. Let rest for about 10-15 minutes before serving. Makes 6 servings.

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