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.

campfire
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
Serving:
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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