Today I'm stuck on the couch with a cold, but instead of watching Dr Phil and Oprah, I thought I'd use the time to geek out over my latest grain obsession, freekeh. Maybe everyone out there already knows about this magical, nutty stuff? But after I was introduced to it at Hellenic Republic in the salad you'll find below, I went looking for it - and many didn't even know who my little friend was, let alone where to find him! So just in case you haven't met, let me introduce you to freekeh.
In case you couldn't tell from the title of this post, freekeh is a grain used mostly in Arabic cooking and it's actually green wheat that has been sun dried, roasted and then rubbed, or thrashed - a process that (somehow?) gives the grain a uniform appearance and a very special flavour that is both nutty and smokey. It's so tasty that you can eat it on its own (with a little olive oil and maybe some yogurt?), but it's used in stuffings, pilafs, salads and a host of other preparations. Some types are cracked into smaller bits, others are left whole - the one I use at home is a whole grain type.
Not only does is it delicious, but is a nutritional powerhouse. Because it is harvested young, it retains more fiber, protein and vitamins. It's low in fat and low GI and even if it wasn't, I'd eat it anyway. It's the bomb. To prepare it, you need only to boil it until tender. The whole grain variety I use takes about 30 minutes to reach tender but with some bite (how I like it), but if you have the cracked grain, cooking time will be considerably less. Once it's ready, you should try it in this salad:
This is George Calombaris' Cypriot Grain Salad, and I first ate it at Hellenic Republic a few months ago with the rest of the Kannas clan. I'd visited HR before and the food had always been good, but the stars must have been aligned that night because we ate a truly glorious meal of slow-cooked lamb, cabbage salad, chargrilled octopus, saganaki with figs and this unforgettable salad. As soon as I got home I googled it and thanked the lord for the TV chef phenomenon, because I instantly had the recipe. Not that you really need one; it's really just a great idea that you can play with in all different ways. The freekeh, along with some just-tender puy lentils, form the bulk of the salad. This is seasoned with briny baby capers, sweet currants, chopped red onion and plenty of chopped parsley and coriander. Then you add crunch: toast a bunch of slivered almonds, pumpkin seeds and pine nuts until golden and throw them in. Bring the whole lot together with great olive oil and the juice of a lemon and top with a cumin-spiked yogurt that hides just a smidgen of Greek honey. In each bite, there's a bunch of different things happening, but all the flavours are at the same party and, baby, it's a good one.
When we ate it at Hellenic Republic it was topped with fresh pomegranate seeds and they were perfect: little jewels bursting with sweet sour juice that explode into the rest of the flavours when you bite in. Sadly, I couldn't find any this week, so I topped the yogurt here with a dollop of pomegranate molasses, to remind me of that first taste. I served alongside some quickly fried slices of spicy Greek loukanika (leek and pork sausage). It was good. I hope you think so too.
Cypriot Grain Salad
Adapted from George Camlombaris' recipe, published on ten.com.au
Notes: Freekeh is available at Middle Eastern grocery stores and some health food shops. The one I buy is produced in Lebanon and sold at Hassoun's Coffee, 384 Gilbert Road, Preston. An aside: this store is so ace I can't believe I'm publishing the address on the internets. Click here for more information about Australian freekeh. Serves 6 as a side dish. This salad keeps really well for a couple of days, so makes a great brown bag lunch dish.
1 cup freekah (or cracked wheat)
½ cup puy lentils
1 bunch coriander shredded
½ bunch parsley shredded
½ red onion finely diced
2 tbsp baby capers
½ cup currants
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
2 tbsp slivered almonds
2 tbsp pine nuts
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tbsp extra virgin olive
Sea salt to taste
½ cup thick Greek yoghurt
½ tsp cumin seeds toasted and ground
½ tbsp honey
fresh pomegranate seeds, or molasses to taste
1. Cook freekeh and lentils separately until just tender. Drain and set aside to cool.
2. Meanwhile, add coriander, parsley, onion, capers and currants to a large bowl.
3. Toast pumpkin seeds, almonds and pine nuts until golden, being careful not to burn. Add to bowl.
4. Add drained and cooled lentils and freekeh and stir gently to combine. Add sea salt, lemon juice and olive oil and continue to stir gently until the salad looks nicely dressed.
5. For yogurt topping, stir cumin and honey into yogurt. Top salad with yogurt and pomegranate seeds or molasses, if using.