Wheat, Much More Than Flour

by Sarah on April 9, 2010


Aegilops-little brother of wheat

What are all those bags of grains in various shades of beige in the corner of the spice store? For years I passed them by, attracted to the jars of paprika reds, yellows, and deep cinnamon browns lining the wall behind the counter, exotic and mysterious. But one day I accompanied the wheat lady to collect specimens for her research and while we were in the field that late spring day, the sun hot on our backs, she told me the tale of the golden plant. It is the story of civilizations, empires, trade and war and the one that is still unfurling today.

Wheat is processed in multiple ways besides powdery white flour, although, sadly this is often one of the only products that is used or recognized by many. Step back in time or into a Middle Eastern food store and discover different textures and flavors that have been used since antiquity to feed generations of empires.

wheat products

Bulgur is wheat that has been parboiled, dried, debranned and ground to various levels of coarseness. This is the first convenience food, for bulgur needs only to be soaked before eating. It can be cooked like rice, used in fried kibbeh or in salads such as Turkish kisir.

Cracked wheat (also called Jereesha or grish) is wheat that has been ground but not parboiled like bulgur, therefore it needs to be cooked before eating. It is used by Iraqis and Kurds in kubba (Middle Eastern dumplings) recipes such as kotel kubba or kubba hamousta.

Farik (or frika)  is made by collecting immature wheat kernels (a subspecies called spelt) and drying them in the sun for a day before setting the pile on fire. The high moisture content keeps the core of the kernel from burning (Clifford A. Wright has a more thorough description of the process).  It is a staple in Egyptian and Palestinian cuisine and is often cooked together with lamb. The first time I made farik my husband asked if I burnt the food. Indeed farik has a rich smoky flavor which is a lovely accompaniment for grilled meats or vegetables. Interestingly, and something new to me, is that in southern Germany, a similar product called gruenkern is made by roasting green wheat.


Farik with Rice

I combined rice and farik together to create a subtle smoky flavored side dish. It goes well with Turkish meatballs.

1 1/2 cups rice

1/2 cup farik

3 cups of water

2 teaspoons of salt

1 tablespoon lamb tail fat

Melt the lamb tail fat in a pot, when hot add the rice and frika and mix for a few moments. Add the water and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cover. Cook for 20 minutes. Turn off heat and let stand for another 10 minutes to fully cook.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Celeste April 9, 2010 at 10:22 am

Great picture(s) Sarah. You always take such great photos.
I have been trying to stay farther away from boring white flour and working with different grains. This morning for example I made some oatmeal for brfst and threw in some ground flax meal.
I love the nutty tastes that various grains impart. Right at the moment I am on a quinoa path searching out recipes to use this “very good for you” grain.
Thanks for the recipe.


Sarah April 9, 2010 at 9:57 pm

thanks! I don’t often cook wiht quinoa but my mil made a very nice sweet and sour cucumber and cranberry recipe using it, a very versatile grain (and gluten free)


Yael the Finn April 9, 2010 at 10:42 am

Nice posting and great pictures!
I love frika,which I got to know when living in the north and visited the shuqs in Arab villages, and I was very happy to find it Tel Aviv too:-)
I love the smoky flavour. I also use whole wheat berries frequently. White flour is something I use extremely seldom these days.


Zahavah April 9, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Nice place setting you put your dish on — looks very familiar!


Sarah April 9, 2010 at 9:56 pm

Perfect setting for a classic Egyptian dish. Thanks for bringing it back from Egypt!


Nawal Nasrallah April 9, 2010 at 4:50 pm

That’s great! Wonderful images and very useful information about the wheat grain grades.

I have a comment though on the fareek, which I love. I find that it takes a long while to cook. I have not tried combining it with rice, so if the two are mixed will they cook at the same time? I will be more tempted to cook it separately (like I do with whole lentil when I mix it with rice — kind of mujaddara dish), and then add it to the rice.


Sarah April 9, 2010 at 10:52 pm

Thank you for your comment.
There is probably a difference in hardness between one batch of farik (frika) to another. The farik was about the same size (it looked partly crushed like the above picture) as the basmati rice that I used and
at the end their cooking time was the same, although in some cases soaking the farik would be recommended. This is a nontraditional way of cooking farik but I wanted my family to get used to the smoky flavor, something they are unaccustomed to.
When I make rice with brown or green lentils I always cook the lentils first, although if I use red lentils this is not necessary. When cooking wild rice with white rice I soak the wild rice first.
Do you know why farik is made only with spelt and not regular wheat? Does this technique release nutrients normally not bioavailable?


Nawal Nasrallah April 12, 2010 at 6:48 am

You are right about the size of the grain. I usually use coarsely ground fareek (the only type available in the Middle Eastern in our city), which naturally takes longer to cook.

I believe the reason why only spelt is used in making it is that spelt, unlike regular wheat, has tough husk, and the easiest way to remove it is by burning it (necessity mother of invention).


Mimi April 11, 2010 at 3:53 am

I’ve long wanted to taste frika, but have never found a kosher source for it. I’m sure I’ll find it if I just keep trying.


kamran siddiqi April 11, 2010 at 8:32 am

Great and informative post, Sarah! I’ll have to try this with the turkish meatballs! Yumm.


BookishIma April 14, 2010 at 1:13 pm

Hi there, my first comment here, though I’ve been reading and enjoying for a little while already. Just wanted to say thanks for the informative post – I’m glad I’m not the only one who gets curious and excited about things like the traditional processing of wheat!


Cmiranda April 14, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Great post Sarah and of course I always enjoy your pictures.I myself am recently starting to move away from using white flour in my cooking and am exploring other kinds of alternative wheat.I have yet to try freeka which I have seen in Armenian markets here in California.I will but it next time to try with your recipe.


Liz@Cafe Liz April 15, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Very interesting, thorough explanation — I’ve never actually worked with anything other than the various wheat bulgars, but now I’ll keep my eyes open for their uncooked cousins.


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