Such a wonderful earthy flavour, Freekeh, that strange sounding name (to Western ears) belonging to the nutty grain. Sold whole or cracked, it is easy to find at Middle Eastern stores, some providores and some bulk lentil and grain places. Freekeh actually means rubbed – the process of removing the grains from its husks.
Like quinoa, freekeh is full of protein, with a beautiful smokiness, and is dead easy to cook. It is Middle Eastern duram wheat that is picked while unripe then traditionally roasted over wood fires to burn off the husks – hence its wonderful smoky flavour. Surprisingly it is also a little sweet, so a squeeze of lemon or lime always does wonders to a freekeh dish.
Freekeh is so unusual as generally the grains we use have been allowed to mature and dry on the head.
This dish is a take on an Ottolenghi dish from his book, Plenty, but has some minor variations. It is beautifully cooked by simmering for 15 mins and then leaving covered, to steam until cooked. Then it is tossed with herbs and topped with garlicky lemon yoghurt before serving.
Similar recipes include Grilled Lettuce with Farro and Lemon, Vegetable Pulao from the Beaches of Goa, Green Beans with Freekeh, Walnuts and Tahini, Barley Pilaf with Mushrooms, and Rice and Cauliflower Pilaf.
Freekeh Pilaf with Herbs
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 Tblspn olive oil, plus extra to finish
150g freekeh (or use bulghar wheat)
0.25 tspn ground cinnamon
0.25 tspn ground allspice
270ml good-quality vegetable stock
100g Greek yoghurt
1.5 tspn lemon juice
0.5 garlic clove, crushed
10g parsley, finely chopped, plus extra to garnish
10g mint, finely chopped
10g coriander, finely chopped
2 Tblspn pine nuts, toasted and roughly broken
sea salt and black pepper
Place the onions, butter and olive oil in a large heavy-based pot and sauté on medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 15–20 minutes. or until the onion is soft and brown. This step is important, so resist the temptation to only partially cook the onion.
Meanwhile, soak the freekeh in cold water for 5 minutes. Drain in a sieve and rinse well under cold running water. Drain well.
Add the freekeh and spices to the onions, followed by the stock and some salt and pepper. Stir well. Bring to the boil, then cover, reduce the heat to a bare minimum and leave to simmer for 15 minutes. If using bulghur, reduce the cooking time to 7 or 8 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and leave it covered for 5 minutes. Finally, remove the lid and leave to pilaf to cool down a little, about another 5 minutes.
While you wait, mix the yoghurt with the lemon juice, garlic and some salt.
Stir the herbs into the warm (not hot) pilaf. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Spoon onto serving dishes and top each portion with a generous dollop of yoghurt. Sprinkle with pine nuts and parsley and finish with a trickle of olive oil.
recipe notes and alternatives
We also added a finely grated carrot and a little chopped garlic to the onions when they were nearly finished cooking, and sauteed it for a few minutes before continuing with the recipe.
The barley itself needs a little acid to balance out its sweetness, so add a squeeze of lime or lemon juice if the flavours need balancing.
A few meltingly soft chickpeas are wonderful added to this dish.