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Top Pick Of The Week

May 14, 2013

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Use freekeh as you would any grain. Above, curried vegetables and freekeh with a side salad. Photo courtesy Freekeh Foods.

WHAT IT IS: Green (young) wheat that has been fire-roasted, with the hull removed. It is a whole grain.
WHY IT’S DIFFERENT: Green wheat has more nutrition than mature wheat. It’s packed with protein: 8 grams per half-cup of cooked freekeh.  All natural, the line will soon be certified organic by the Oregon Tilth.
WHY WE LOVE IT: Freekeh is part of the family of whole grains that has nutty flavor and crunchy texture. It’s a refreshing change of pace from rice and rice salads.
WHERE TO BUY IT:  Check the store locator, buy it from the Freekeh Foods website, and Amazom.com.

 

Contemporary packaging from Freekeh Foods will help get new recognition for this ancient whole grain. Photo courtesy Freekeh Foods.

Freekeh serves a bed for a sauté, here chicken, spinach and sundried tomatoes. Photo courtesy Freekeh Foods.


Anyplace rice works, so does freekeh. Photo of freekeh sushi courtesy Freekeh Foods.


Stuff bell peppers or cherry tomatoes with freekeh. Photo courtesy Freekehlicious.

 

Get Your Freekeh On With This “New” Ancient Grain

 

One of the delights of living in America is easy access to foods from all over the globe. We’re a mix of many cultures, each of which brings their traditional foods to these shores. Even if there’s no retailer near you that carries international foods, e-tailers provide speedy delivery.


Following on the heels of quinoa, an ancient grain from Peru, comes freekeh, another tasty, protein-packed and otherwise nutritious ancient grain from the Middle East. Freekeh is not another type of grain but is roasted green (young) durum wheat. The name, which means means "to rub" in Arabic, refers to how the hull is rubbed off the kernel during production.  It has a hearty, nutty flavor, somewhat like brown rice and barley; and a crunchy texture similar to wheat berries.

Chef Jamie Oliver, Dr. Oz and Oprah Winfrey are fans. While imported freekeh has been available in natural foods stores and international markets, Freekeh Foods, a new company in Minneapolis, has packaged the ancient grain in created modern, inviting bags that have eye appeal to shoppers passing by. Another Minnesota company, Freekehlicious, is also championing the grain with a modern approach.


The company makes  three freekeh varieties, including the first flavored freekeh we’ve seen:

  • Original (plain)
  • Rosemary Sage Freekeh
  • Tamari Freekeh

The company also sells a freekeh cookbook that focuses on entrée dishes: one-pot meals, spicy freekeh jambalaya, paella, tacos, empanadas and even freekeh sushi. Three recipes from the cookbook are on the website.

A Happy Accident

As the story goes, freekeh dates to about 2300 B.C.E. It was created by accident nearly 2,000 years ago. A Middle Eastern village—it may have been in Egypt—was attacked and its crop of young green wheat was set ablaze. Since food was a hard thing to come by, the villagers rubbed off the burned chaff, cooked the immature kernels and discovered that they had a smoky aroma and a nutty taste, a cross between brown rice and barley. It became popular in the cuisines of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

The young, green wheat is dried on the stalk and the grains are harvested while still soft with a high moisture content. It’s then placed over an open fire for roasting, during which the straw and chaff burn and the wheat turns a dark gold color.   The grains are then polished and cracked. Here are photos of the process.

The husk is then rubbed off and wheat berry remains. The entire process is natural, and freekeh contains no additives or preservatives.

 

Great Nutrition


One half cup of cooked freekeh has 130 calories, 4 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein. According to Vandana R. Sheth, RD, CDE, of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, compared to other grains, freekeh is higher in protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and lower in glycemic index (suitable for diabetics). Some people call freekeh a superfood.

Freekeh is made from non-GMO wheat, but the jury is out on gluten: More research is needed. There’s some evidence that because the wheat is harvested young, the gluten may not be fully  developed. The roasting, too, may limit the gluten. But if you have gluten sensitivities, proceed slowly.

Preparing & Serving Freekeh

Freekeh is cooked exactly like rice: 1 cup freekeh, 2.5 cups water or chicken/vegetable stock for added flavor and 1 teaspoon salt, brought to a boil and cooked for 25 minutes or until tender. Or, it can be cooked in a rice cooker or the microwave.

One cup of uncooked freekeh yields 3 cups of cooked grain.

Then, versatility is the name of the grain. Freekeh is at home wherever barley, bulgur, couscous, farro, pasta, quinoa, rice, and other grains are used: in casseroles, chili, pilafs, salads, soups, stews, stir-frys, stuffed peppers and as a side with proteins. It also can be served as a porridge.

  • We were delighted with a chilled salad of freekeh with olive oil, dill, parsley, lemon zest and feta cheese.
  • We then made a chilled freekeh salad with dried fruit, fresh herbs, edamame and green beans, and followed a Lebanese recipe that topped it with chicken and toasted pine nuts.
  • Next came a delicious vegetarian entree: freekeh topped with grilled tofu and vegetables.

 

Serve it to friends and family but don’t tell them what it is. Then tell the story of the burned wheat crop that started it all.

For more information, visit Freekeh-Foods.com.

— Karen Hochman

 

     
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