Freekeh- the next trendy ingredient?

by Sarah on September 24, 2012

freekeh, green wheat

Actually, I have no idea. I am the last person to consult with about the latest and greatest in the kitchen and out. I have never been a trend setter or a follower. This has some advantages. Looking back at the pictures of myself, I don’t look ridiculous. No puffed up hair molded in plastic spray or weirdly colored makeup. I never wore leg warmers over my jeans and Madonna did not give me fashion advice. That said, I am a pretty good judge of the passing fad. I could have told you to stay away from those baggy jeans and shoulder pads.
Sometimes a surge in popularity is entirely spontaneous, other times it is contrived by the PR world. Trends can be as elusive as the weather and long term predictions are rarely accurate. Indeed, even market analyzers are no fortune tellers, and must make do with educated guesses. (The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell gives an interesting overview on this subject).

(below: The Israel Trail,  Negev, Ma’ale Palmach)

maale palmach, Israel Trail, Israel, Negev
Like every other spectrum in life, food preferences can also be affected by superficial or long term trends. These span the good – local eating, the excessive-the Oreo cookie obsession and the just plain weird- salted caramel bacon brownies anyone? In areas with strong ties to traditional food culture, these yearly fluctuations are not as apparent and in some cases even nonexistent. While it has a potential to, traditional cuisine is not necessarily linked to local, seasonal or sustainable eating. Take shark fin soup, for example, or Italian cooking in Alaska. It does mean that marketing gimmicks and even the FDA have less of a chance to manipulate the buying behavior of this group.

zucchini stuffed with freekeh

It is nice to see that home cooks and chefs alike have begun to be opinion leaders and no longer wait for large food manufactures to monopolize this realm. Wisdom once discarded as old fashioned is now given a new life. Foraging, canning, craft brewing and other from-scratch endeavors do not belong solely to the long haired hippie. Farm markets, common in many parts of Europe are finding their niche in the United States as well. People are interested in reclaiming their food heritage or creating new ones based on their ideals.

While ethnic cooking is still strong in Israel, food companies have been busy influencing consumers through advertising campaigns. The Bamba baby, the icon of a peanut corn snack is one of the most popular cartoon characters across the country. Despite the pressure, there are some who do not deviate from tradition such as Balkees from Nazareth who continues to prepare ethnic Arab dishes. Most people however, blend old and new creating the eclectic cuisine Israel is known for.

northern negev, hakarbolet, Israeli Trail
What will the next food trend be? Every year there are numerous articles published on this topic in food magazines and websites, often with nothing coherent between the lists. The top picks for 2012 have included Korean tacos, meatloaf, pie-pops (pie pops?), high-end Indian, fennel pollen, funky pizzas, gefilte fish (just kidding) and wild greens. It’s always interesting to look back at them to see if any of their prophecies came to life.
We are already headed towards 2013 and I can’t help but add my voice (spoken in confidence) to the mix. Freekeh, an under-appreciated Middle Eastern grain, will find the spotlight and is my pick for 2013.

cored zucchini
Freekeh is derived from immature green wheat that has been roasted with the husk intact. The high moisture content of the seeds protects them from burning while the outer covering becomes charred. The husk is then rubbed off, hence the name in Arabic. According to Abbie Rosner, author of Breaking Bread in Galilee , freekeh was essential during times of famine when the previous year’s wheat supply diminished. Instead of picking the wheat at the end of the season, they would be harvested early to supply food for the community.
Freekeh is dominant, chewy and heavy scented. It is a rustic dish that brings to mind camp fires  and the great outdoors; each bite permeated with smoky earthiness. Traditionally it is served plain, or paired with lamb to slow cook together. Finely ground, it is used to prepare soup, filling, hearty and aromatic.

Below are two ways to prepare freekeh


freekeh with lentils and caramelized onions

Freekeh with lentils

Freekeh Madjadra
Mounds of sweet golden onions mellow the intensity of the freekeh. While this popular grain and lentil dish is common in the Middle East, it is most often made with rice or bulgur. This version is not considered traditional. The 1:1 ratio of lentils to grains is preferred by the Palestinians.

¼ cup olive oil or enough to cover the bottom of the pot
2 onions, finely chopped
1 cup freekeh coarsely ground
1 cup lentils
1 ½ teaspoons salt or to taste
½ teaspoon pepper
½ cumin
2 cups boiling water or chicken stock
¼ cup olive oil
2 onions, chopped
To avoid long cooking times, soak the lentils for 1-3 hours. This step can be omitted as long as the cooking time is extended. Drain the lentils and put in pot. Add enough water to cover them and cook for 20 minutes or until soft but not falling apart. Set aside.
In a heavy pot heat the oil and fry the onions on low heat until they are very golden brown. Alternatively, the onions used as a topping can be cut into half rings and sautéed separately if desired. This takes patience- about 40 minutes- to develop the rich caramel flavor. Set aside half the onions for the topping. Add the freekeh and spices. Fry for about two minutes while mixing. Add the lentils and stir to combine.
Add the boiling water and cook for 20 minutes covered. By this time the grains should have absorbed all the water. Turn off the heat and let sit, covered for twenty more minutes. If the grains are still too hard, add about ½ cup water and continue cooking for another 10 minutes.

zucchini stuffed with freekeh


Zucchini stuffed with freekeh


I had these the first time at Balkees’s house in Nazareth. They are a labor of love. Each tiny zucchini is cored before stuffing it with a mixture of freekeh and olive oil. Nothing more is needed. Balkees cooks the zucchini together with mounds of stuffed grape leaves, creating a dish infused with summer flavor. I served this with Greek yogurt.

About 15 tiny zucchini cored or 7 larger ones cut in half and cored
1 cup freekeh
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
Cooking liquid:
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses or juice of ½ a lemon
4 tablespoons of olive oil
A few grape leaves to cover the bottom of the pot. If this is not available, cover the bottom with tomato or carrot slices. I used a pot 24 cm (~9.5 inches) in diameter for this recipe

Mix the freekeh together with olive oil and salt. Stuff the zucchini so it is about ¾ full. The freekeh will expand when cooked. Layer the bottom of the pot with grape leaves. Place the zucchini on top of the grape leaves, snuggly together until there is no space between them. If there is extra freekeh, roll them in a few grape leaves and place them around the zucchini. Dilute the pomegranate molasses in one cup of water and pour over the vegetables. Add the olive oil and enough water to barely cover the top of the vegetables. Place a heavy plate on top so the zucchini will stay in place while cooking. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Cook for another 45min minutes. Remove cover. If the zucchini are still swimming in liquid, continue to cook with the top off to evaporate off. Serve with yogurt.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Rosa September 24, 2012 at 7:03 am

A fabulous speciality! Really scrumptious looking. From what I’ve seen in magazines, this dish could be the next trend…




Gayle September 24, 2012 at 7:52 am

I’ve never made freekeh – now I have 2 recipes to try! As for trends that are best forgotten – let’s just say pink drop waist bubble skirt dress of my bat mitzvah


Sarah September 24, 2012 at 7:57 am

pictures please!


foodwanderings September 24, 2012 at 9:40 am

Hey Sarah, Love the idea of Frekkeh Majadra. That fifth photo is particular is incredible!


Sarah September 24, 2012 at 10:03 am

Thanks Shulie, The fifth picture was the hardest part of the Israel Trail (what we did so far), It’s called the karbolet- the ridge over the Large Crater. It was the forth day straight of backpacking and also the eve of Passover. We were completely alone up there.


Yael the Finn September 24, 2012 at 10:04 am

I love freekeh and always have it in my cupboard! First ate it 4 years ago when living in the Galil and I am happy that one can now find it so easily in the Tel Aviv area as well.I have taken it to friends in Finland,who really loved it:)


Sarah September 24, 2012 at 10:28 am

Yael, It’s great you are introducing your Finnish friends to the lesser known ingredients of the Middle East!


Helene Dsouza I Masala Herb September 25, 2012 at 8:15 am

that has definitely not come to goa yet! lol

Thanks for introducing a great new food, now i just have to figure out where to get that. How is freekeh exactly made, maybe there is a way to recreate it at home? How long can u store them? They must be very moist compared to the mature wheat. How do u pronounce it?

I know thats a lot of questions Sarah. ;)


Sarah September 27, 2012 at 9:36 pm

Thanks Helene, You’ll need a field of wheat to prepare frekeeh. They are roasted while the seeds are still moist, before they are usually harvested. After this process they are left to dry. As far as I know frekeeh is pronounced freaky. In Israel Frekeeh is sold in most spice stores though I seldom see it at regular supermarkets.


Meeta September 27, 2012 at 11:35 pm

HA! Sarah – I am one of those people who looks back and cringes at the fashion mishaps and well madonna was my fashion diva. Thankfully I have matured enough to realize not to follow all fads!! I adore freekeh however as I have never see it here usually bring back bagfuls from Dubai. I love it the way you prepared it here with lentils!


Joanna November 12, 2013 at 7:31 am

Hi meeta! Where in dubai do you buy freekeh? I’ve been looking all over but can’t seem to find i.


vanessa skittles October 21, 2012 at 10:08 pm

Madonna rolling in her grave right now


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