It might be the next quinoa.

If what's old really is new again, then it's time you tried freekeh. It just might become your new favorite whole grain and pantry staple. Freekeh (pronounced free-kah) is green grains of durum wheat that have been roasted. It's an ancient grain that has been pivotal in Middle-Eastern and North African cuisines for centuries.

cooked freekeh on sheet pan
Credit: Bryan Gardner

Similar to bulgur, freekeh comes either whole or cracked, the latter being more common; cracked freekeh cooks up in about 20 minutes—double that timing for whole. Similar to rice, one cup of freekeh will triple in volume once cooked (and leftovers will freeze beautifully, too). You can also use your rice cooker to make a batch of freekeh, on the brown rice setting. Find freekeh at natural food stores, Middle Eastern grocers, and increasingly with other whole grains in the grocery store, especially if your market carries Bob's Red Mill.

Because freekeh is harvested when the grains are still young and green, it retains more nutrients, making it a powerhouse comparable to quinoa. A 3/4 cup serving of cooked freekeh contains about 130 calories, less than one gram of fat, six grams of protein, and four grams of fiber (nearly triple the amount found in brown rice!). And with being high in the essentials like iron, manganese, antioxidants, and B vitamins, and low on the glycemic index chart, it is clear that freekeh is going to get more popular with everyone interested in a healthy and balanced diet.

Traditionally freekeh plays a role in the signature dishes of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. It's prepared as a pilaf and served alongside lamb, simmered in hearty stews and used to break the fast from Ramadan, or stuffed in a bird for special occasions.

The roasting process during harvesting imparts a slightly smoky, notably savory flavor to the freekeh that pairs well with foods like salty cheese and tart citrus fruits. The final result of simmering a pot of freekeh on the stove is a light, fluffy grain with a slightly firm and chewy texture. You can substitute it in most recipes that call for grains like farro, wheatberries, and rice (but keep an eye on the timing), or try freekeh in your next skillet chicken dinner or in a make-ahead grain bowl.

And if the lore around freekeh's origin story is true, then you can add "survivor" to its list of descriptors. Legend has it that when a village came under siege and the wheat fields caught fire, the villagers discovered in the aftermath that all was not lost—they could salvage the crop by rubbing away the burnt outer shell of the grain to reveal a lightly toasted kernel.


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