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.
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.