What’s ancient is new again, at least when it comes to whole grains. Freekeh, the latest superfood darling, has made a splash in the culinary scene, appearing on diverse menus that span cuisines to suit all tastes. It’s been around since biblical times, rooted in traditional Middle Eastern and North African cooking, but has recently reinvented itself as the latest nutritional superstar of North America. Even those immune to food trends should take note of this vital ingredient, bearing volumes of flavor and potential to enliven just about any grain dish.
Also referred to as “green wheat” or “young wheat,” it may come as a surprise that this distinctive grain is really the same old cereal we know and love, but treated in a different way. Harvested early while still moist and plump, the kernels are then roasted and frequently cracked, giving them the appearance of bulgur. The similarities end there, made obvious at first bite. Toothsome and chewy, the texture alone is utterly crave-worthy, but the woodsy, nutty, toasted taste and aroma truly seal the deal. Does that sound ordinary to you, pedestrian even, in the face of so many exotic grain options? It did to me, for years resonating as little more than a silly name, but all that will change with your first spoonful. Trust me, eating is believing; I don’t usually cook up big batches of plain grains, but even without a single pinch of salt or pepper, I couldn’t get enough of the stuff.
Despite devouring a heaping helping of plain freekeh all by its lonesome, I knew there was even more hidden potential locked within those broken kernels. Starting with such a perfect blank canvas, it didn’t take much to coax that untapped inspiration out of hiding.
Of course, I couldn’t resist a good pun, either. With a name like “freekeh,” the possibilities are ripe with witty opportunities. Dirty freekeh, a riff on standard dirty rice, brings so much more than another boring side dish to the party. It sings with spices, bursts with fresh vegetables at every turn, and supports a healthy dose of vegan protein within a hearty grain base. If anything, it’s more like a clean rendition of dirty rice, forgoing the livers and gibbets in favor of tempeh, a swap that even staunch omnivores might appreciate.
If not for the fine folks at Village Harvest, I may have never made the leap to investigate this “new” ancient ingredient. Now that I’m hooked though, it pains me that it’s not more widely available, restricted to a limited release only in select south-east Costco stores. Though slightly heartbroken, I’m still happy to have access to dozens of their other grainy offerings, found nationwide.
That sort of everyday luxury is one that everyone should have, which is why I want to share two freebie coupons with two hungry readers, good for any Village Harvest product of your choice. As an added bonus, you’ll even take away a large “Grainivore” t-shirt to boast your love of grains to the world, loud and proud. Interested in entering? Talk to me about freekeh- Have you eaten it before? What’s your favorite preparation? Does the name make you giggle, too? Just be sure to leave me a comment with your name and email in the appropriate boxes before April 30th at midnight EST. This post will be updated shortly thereafter with the announcement of the two selected winners.
UPDATE: The entry period is over and a winner has been selected by the trusty random number generator. The two lucky commenters who are about to get their freekeh on are…
Even if you can’t get your hands on those rarefied bags of cracked freekeh, any grain can be made dirty, so to speak. Just substitute 3 cups of your favorite cooked and cooled whole grains, such as quinoa, barley, farro, or of course, rice.
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
1 8-Ounce Package Tempeh, Diced
1/2 Cup Minced Button Mushrooms
1 Medium Yellow Onion, Finely Chopped
3 Large Garlic Cloves, Minced
2 Celery Stalks, Diced
1 Jalapeño Pepper, Seeded and Finely Chopped
1/2 Medium Red Bell Pepper
1 Cup Mushroom Broth
3 Cups Cooked Cracked Freekeh (From 1 Cup Raw)
1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/4 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
6 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
3 Tablespoon Fresh Parsley, Minced
1 – 1 1/2 Teaspoons Salt
Place 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and wait until it start shimmering. Add in the tempeh and saute, searing the outsides to a crispy golden brown. Stir gently so that you don’t break the cubes into smaller pieces. Once evenly browned on all sides, transfer to a plate and return the pan to the stove.
Pour in the remaining tablespoon of oil, turn down the heat to medium, and toss in the mushrooms, onion, and garlic. Cook for 6 – 8 minutes, until aromatic, before introducing the celery, Jalapeño, and bell pepper as well. Stir frequently, sauteing until all the vegetables have softened and are just beginning to lightly brown around the edges. Quickly deglaze with the mushroom broth, scraping the bottom of the pan thoroughly to dislodge anything that might have stuck, preventing the goodies from burning. Introduce the cooked freekeh along with all the spices. Stir well to incorporate and distribute the vegetables throughout.
Turn down the heat to medium-low, allowing the mixture to cook gently until all of the broth has been absorbed. It should still be moist, but not soupy. Turn off the heat, add the cooked, crispy tempeh and fresh herbs into the freekeh. Finally, season to taste, and don’t be afraid to get a bit aggressive with the salt to bring out the most flavor. It may look like a lot on paper, but it’s a whole lot of freekeh we’re talking about!
Serve hot, or let cool, chill thoroughly, and enjoy as a cold grain salad later.
Makes 4 – 6 Servings