I had heard of yuca (also spelled “yucca” and also known as cassava or manioc) before and knew it was a type of root vegetable, but had never eaten it until last year at Marvin’s mom’s house. She had made a sort of Puerto Rican “shepherd’s pie” with ground beef, tomatoes, garlic, carrots & onion, covered by a layer of mashed yuca and baked in the oven. I immediately loved the texture and flavor of the yuca- people compare it to potatoes, but its consistency is much more dense and “wet”, and it has a subtle sweetness to it.
Puerto Ricans also use yuca to make pasteles de yuca, a variation of a treat made on special occasions that consists of seasoned stewed pork enclosed by a dough of mashed yuca, the whole of it assembled and cooked in banana leaves. Pasteles could be called the Puerto Rican equivalent of tamales, and due to the labor-intensive nature, are usually only made around holiday times with multiple family members lending a hand.
You’ve probably consumed the yuca plant lots of times without realizing it- the flour made from the cassava plant, high in starch and an excellent thickener, is none other than tapioca. The plant is a staple in many countries in South America and Africa, especially where other plants have difficulty growing.
If you want to experiment with yuca, you can find it in the freezer section in some Latino supermarkets; the popular Goya brand sells it in large chunks or pre-grated. I hope to obtain Marvin’s mom’s recipe for the shepherd’s pie and post about it soon.
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).
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.
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.
Posted in Grains, Ingredients Spotlight, Middle Eastern food, Recipes, Vegan
Tagged bulgur, freekeh, freka, frik, grain, green, ingredients, Middle Eastern food, roasted, smoked, Trader Joe's, wheat