Freekeh, the new kid on the old block has joined Kamut and Farro in my kitchen. Despite its unusual name, Freekeh is not an odd-ball successor to the Pharao’s throne. This toasted green wheat is a serious contender though to lift quinoa from its seat as ruler of trendy ancient grains with super powers.
An ancient Middle Eastern grain, freekeh was first mentioned in a 13th century cook book.
Ancient and new, it captures the flavour of fresh young green wheat in the roasted grains. Even if you suffer from trend-fatigue or are cynical about ingredients claiming to be the holy grail, freekah is a taste from the past worth all the hype.
As a hunter of pleasure and gatherer of old knowledge I was delighted to receive a hamper from The Really Interesting Food Company (TRIFCO) the same day I heard there will be another season of Fargo, my favourite movie-turned-television-series.
It was a thrill to unpack ingredients I’ve up to now just read about, never touched or smelled before, including a covetable jar of Piment cheveux d Ange, angel hair chili strands from France. It looks like the well-built red-head cousin of saffron with the dark, pleasantly dusty smell of ñora peppers. And not only one box of freekeh, but two varieties. It took willpower to wait till Freedom Day to start cooking from this treasure chest.
Exploring a new ingredient or new way of doing things is a natural high for me. It rekindles curiosity, challenges the mind and stimulates creativity. If your cooking love life is jaded, trying something new can perk things up quite a bit. Those from my generation are reminded of 9 ½ Weeks and what can happen in the kitchen with some inspiring ingredients at hand.
I’m not talking TPM (total pantry makeover). Maybe a favourite dish just needs a new hairdo to rekindle the flame, or lift the hemline a little to turn your walk into a swagger. Put aside the old woolly slippers and slip into those fabulous tackies made from recycled tannie-tapestries. Old becomes new. The comfortable becomes the exotic, the swoon-worthy.
Practising what I preach I used Freedom Day to try out the new love toys, investing a whole day in the new relationship. The first step in getting properly acquainted with Freekeh is how to pronounce it (‘free-ka”) and knowing what’s behind the name.
The name freekeh comes from the Arabic al-freek, which means “what is rubbed”, a nod to the rubbing of the wheat grains to rid them of their shells.
Freekeh ticks all the boxes, from being low carb and low GI to its high fibre content. Picked and roasted when the grain is still green, it retains more of the good stuff – protein, vitamins, minerals. It’s also free from GMO, colouring, additives and preservatives.
*See below how it’s produced and the role of fire.
The taste: I’ve been to enough health shops to know that ‘health products’ can taste like (if you’re lucky) toasted cardboard. Freekeh may well be healthy, but it’s also true deli-stuff. Healthy AND delicious it tastes of its history, smoky, nutty, Middle-Eastern, wholesome. Crunchy.
It tastes like a big hug from Yotam Ottolenghi would feel like, I imagine. Nearly as delicious as the stampkoring (cracked wheat) I grew up with, and which my mom served with skaapboud and stewed peaches. But as we know, nostalgia is the best seasoning.
Fear not the long rinse cycle nor soaking
I tried my hand once at baking with kamut. Not much luck. I do use farro (spelt) on occasion, an ancient wheat similar to barley. I was taught a delicious farro caprese salad by the Pietrelli brothers of the Italians restaurant Zibaldone. Farao is great with porchetta (rolled pork with fennel). All the rinsing, rinsing, soaking and lengthy cooking time dampened my enthusiasm somewhat for this Italian treat.
What a relief to find a great substitute in Freekeh. I simply stirred through the Italian flag flavours of Caprese – cubes of fresh mozzarella and beefy tomatoes with plenty of torn basil. Well seasoned, it’s then moistened with lots of olive oil and a few drops of Modena balsamic vinegar.
Both the Greenwheat wholegrain or cracked freekeh is easy and quick to cook in the microwave (10 minutes cooking on high and .5 minutes resting time) or 45 minutes on the stovetop. I went for the microwave option, saving time for a Freedom Day power nap.
What has me as excited as watching Fargo is the grain’s soup and stew potential. Soup is the food of my inner child. I love making it, eating it and sharing it. I GET soup, and I think soup GETS me. The fact that this ancient new kid on the block could improve my old faithful, much-loved Moroccan chicken soup says a lot.
The freekeh-fied version of my favourite Moroccan chicken soup has more texture and nuttiness, worthy to be crowned with chermoula-spiced, buttery freekeh crumbs. So happy am I with the end result that the updated version will be included in my new cookbook TUISTAFEL.
Seeing that Greenwheat Freekeh is a 100% Australian grown wheat (and the Aussies developed the technology that I can have it on my shelf in Welgemoed) I incorporated Australian Gourmet Traveller’s idea to top the soup with wafer thin beetroot slices and fried mint. A touch of North Africa, a nod to Down Under and a thumbs up to the Middle East.
With my soup genes inherited from my maternal grandfather Oupa Boy Moller, I dedicate the soup to him – he was a wanderer and a dreamer and would have loved the ancient side to the grain.
FREEKEH-FIED MOROCCAN CHICKEN SOUP WITH CHERMOULA CRUMBS
This freekeh-fied version of my favourite spicy Moroccan chicken soup has a wonderful texture and nuttiness, worthy to be crowned with chermoula-spiced, buttery freekeh crumbs. So happy am I with the end result that the updated version will be included in my new cookbook TUISTAFEL.
- 50 g butter
- 250 ml uncooked Greenwheat Cracked Grain Freekeh
- 450 g chicken breasts, in strips
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, bruised
- 7,5 ml cake flour
- 15 – 30 ml harissa (I love lots)
- 1 liter chicken stock
- 400 g tinned chopped tomatoes
- Optional: 400 g can chick peas, rinsed and drained
- Salt and black pepper
To serve: chermoula-freekeh crumbs, thinly sliced raw beetroot, sour cream or thick yogurt, flash fried mint leaves and angel hair chilli (if available). Also some lemon slices for those who prefer it to sour cream.
- 50 g salted butter, room temperature
- 30 ml fresh coriander, finely chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or grated
- 5 ml ground cumin
- 1 red chilli, seeds removed, chopped
- 7-10 strands angel hair chilli, if available, or saffron
- 2 ,5 ml turmeric (if not using saffron)
- 5 ml paprika
- Rind of ½ lemon
- 250 ml cooked Greenwheat cracked grain freekeh (until such time you can source freekeh, use dried bread crumbs)
Cook the freekeh: Place 250 ml Greenwheat Freekeh, 500 ml boiling water and 5 ml salt in a deep microwave bowl. Cover and cook for 10 minutes on high. Keep covered and leave to sit for a further 5 minutes. Reserve 250 ml cooked freekeh aside for the chermoula crumbs and keep the rest for the soup.
Make the soup: Melt butter in a large pot, add the chicken strips and saute while stirring with a wooden spoon until it just starts to brown, around 5 minutes. Remove chicken with slotten spoon and keep aside.
Add the onions and garlic in the same pot, and cook over low heat till soft, but not browned.
Add the flour and stir till it starts to brown, then stir in the harissa paste and cook for 1 minute, then gradually add the chicken stock, tomatoes and chicken strips. If you wish to add chick peas, add it now. Simmer with lid on for 15 minutes, add the cooked freekeh, still reserving 1 cup for the chermoula crumbs. Add more stock if too thick. Simmer for 8-10 minutes. Season to taste.
While the soup simmers:
Make chermoula freekeh butter – whip together the butter, coriander, garlic, angel hair chilli, cumin, lemon rind and paprika till smooth. Stir in the freekeh.
Flash fry the mint leaves in medium hot oil for a few seconds, drain on kitchen towel. Discard leaves that turn brown, it should still be mint green.
Serving: Ladle the soup in warmed bowls, add a dollop each of the chermoulah freekeh crumbs and sour cream. Round off with a few slices of very thinly sliced beetroot and a few leaves of crispy fried mint.
The people from The Really Interesting Food Company (TRIFCO) really know their freekeh from their farro. Get more info on their gourmet products at www.thereallyinterestingfoodcompany.com
- Wheat is harvested while still young, green and soft and sorted into piles that are set on fire so only the chaff and straw burn, but not the seeds. The high moisture content of the seeds protect them from burning. Once the green wheat has been roasted, it undergoes further sun-drying to guarantee greater uniformity of flavour, colour and texture.
- Freekeh can be used as a substitute for any other grain in sweet or savoury dishes, such as soups, salads, casseroles, risottos, desserts and pastries.
- Although freekeh has been produced by hand in the Middle East for many centuries, Greenwheat Freekeh in Australia is the first company to modernise and mechanise the production of roasted green wheat.
Photography by Ian du Toit, styling by Errieda du Toit.
Vote for this recipe on the Facebook page of Freekeh South Africa.