ingredient spotlight: freekeh

Things are crazy lately and I haven’t been able to post full-on recipes as regularly as I would like, so I had the idea to do some shorter posts focusing on single ingredients that you may or may not be familiar with.  First up: freekeh- also spelled farik, frik, freka, and probably a handful of other ways depending on who you ask.  The reason this ingredient doesn’t have an established anglicized spelling is because it is fairly uncommon in the U.S. (although a pre-cooked version has recently made an appearance on the shelves at Trader Joe’s).

freekeh in bag 2

So what exactly is freekeh? According to May S. Bsisu in her book The Arab Table, it is “…the roasted grains of green wheat stalks.  There are two types: whole green kernels and shelled kernels.  Whole green freka can be purchased in Middle Eastern stores… As with bulgur, freka should be soaked in cold water for 10 minutes before cooking…”  The Wikipedia entry on freekeh gives more detailed information as to how it’s produced. (Personally though, I love the succinct description on the package I bought: “Roasted Baby Wheat”- sounds a bit diabolical!)  The freekeh I purchased was the cracked or “shelled” variety, and it cooked up very quickly.  I think if you were using whole freekeh it would take 2-3 x as long.

Roasting gives freekeh a delightfully smoky flavor, which makes it really stand out in comparison to its cousin, bulghur.  If you enjoy smoked foods, you’ll really like freekeh- its scent reminds me of campfires and fall.  You can use it in soup, or cook it on its own as a side dish.  According to Bsisu, the finished texture should have a slight crunch or “pop” to it, like when you bite into sweet corn.  As you can see in the photo below, since it is not fully mature, freekeh has a slight greenish tint to it.

freekeh in dish 2

I first heard about this grain a few months ago from Warda of 64 Sq Ft Kitchen.  It’s a pretty obscure item, at least around here- I’ve shopped at several grocery stores specializing in Mid-East foods and had never seen or heard of it.  I finally came across some when the band took a trip out to Grand Rapids and we stopped to get sandwiches in a small Middle Eastern deli/grocery (The Pita House).  (Update: I have since found packaged whole freekeh at Gabriel Imports in the Eastern Market.) Once I found the freekeh, though, I still had trouble finding recipes- I looked in several Middle Eastern cookbooks and found only two or three mentions.*  I’m guessing this is because it’s more common in Palestine, Jordan and Syria, whereas many Middle Eastern cookbooks published for Westerners tend to focus on foods from Lebanon, Turkey, or Morocco.  I did find a recipe for Beef & Freekeh Soup (Shorbat Freka) in The Arab Table, which I will post about very soon posted about here!

*Note: I have since come across this website, which offers off-the-beaten-track recipes such as “Freekeh Yogurt and Zucchini Loaf” and “Crisp Freekeh Crab Cakes with Aioli”.  If anyone is brave, you can try them and let me know how they turn out.

9 responses to “ingredient spotlight: freekeh

  1. Smoky grains, I’m in. I have a store by me that carries a lot of Ziyad products, I’ll look for it.

  2. Look out for tiny stones, used to boost the weight

  3. Thanks so much for the info. It sounds tasty and exotic. I would be curious to find out the nutritional value of freekeh compared to other grains. I have become a grain nut recently as I have made a point to eat healthier. Especially enjoying lots of quinoa! Thanks for all your posts! Keep it up!

    • Brian- not sure about the nutritional content but I believe the link at the bottom of the post (the one with the wacky recipes) has that info on their site since they are selling it as a “health food”. 🙂

  4. You are right, this is not very popular in Lebanon. I am Lebanese, I heard the term but I did not know it was wheat, I thought it was some regional dish. Although I asked my mom and she is familiar with it, and she said in the old days it used to be toasted and eaten.
    Wheat is more popular here and we have a special dish we make for St Barbara (practically our version of Halloween) basically it is cooked wheat to which you add nuts and raisins before serving.

  5. Drat! I’m always looking for new things to try. I’ve been in The Pita House. I must have overlooked it, thought it was bulgar. Have to make a trip up to GR cause that soup recipe sounds good.

  6. I just cooked some freekeh. so tasty!
    A Jordanian friend of mine gave me a basic way to cook it, basically you have to add all spice, cardamom, cinnamon, salt and pepper. So I put these spices in the water and cooked the frekke.
    Then I sauteed onions, carrot and chopped asparagueses (the only green vegetables I had). I added 2 very ripe tomatoes, added some water, a pinch of thyme, same spices as above (again) and a tiny bit of sugar (i don’t usually add sugar, it depends whether the tomatoes are sweet or not. Taste the stew before you add any). I also added some cooked chicken from the night before.Let it cook for 5-10 minutes and then add the cooked frekkeh! It was delicious!
    Buon appetito!

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