Freekeh, Buckwheat, Quinoa

Freekeh, pronounced “freak-eh” or “free-kah” depending on where your search engine takes you, is wheat. But, it’s not just any wheat, it’s green wheat (as in harvested young) that’s been roasted, often in a manner that imparts smoky flavor. If you’re wondering if it’s worth the bother to add it to your grocery list, the answer is a resounding yes. Here’s why:

  • Taste … smoky and nutty all in one grain
  • Texture … when cooked right it has a pleasant bit of soft chew, a sort of al dente applied to whole grain
  • Fiber … 3 times that of brown rice, 2 times the fiber in quinoa
  • Protein … more than in regular wheat
  • Sugar … low on the glycemic index
Freekeh and buckwheat after a few minutes in pot

Freekeh and buckwheat after a few minutes in pot.

It always makes me smile when I tell someone what she’s eating – because it sounds freaky … But, there’s one more but … I generally don’t serve freekeh with nothing but seasoning. The pleasant al dente chew is great when added to a salad (like tabouleh) or mixed with other grains that tend to get soft when cooked. The other grains that come into play in my Winter Grain Polenta are buckwheat and quinoa. I know, polenta is technically a cornmeal-based mush.  My recipe has the consistency of mashed potatoes or stiff polenta, but I couldn’t really call it mixed grain mashed potatoes, so I went with polenta. And I know that buckwheat isn’t actually a grain, it’s a “pseudocereal,” a term that doesn’t inspire much Pavlovian mouthwatering. Quinoa is a grain, so with two out of three of my grains actually being grains I’m sticking with the oxymoronic name.

grains cooking w kebsa and smoked paprika

As you cook, the buckwheat and quinoa should be rinsed. Do this  just before you add each to the pot. Don’t rinse them ahead or they’ll clump. DO NOT RINSE THE FREEKEH, or you’ll wash away all the lovely, smoky flavor.

The freekeh and buckwheat take longer to cook than the quinoa, so they go into the pot first. The fat (butter or olive oil) adds flavor and helps minimize lumps.

And then there’s the kebsa … which I bought at a great Middle East grocery store in Rochester, Minnesota. I love being in an ethnic market where I’m the minority. If everyone looked like me I’d be skeptical about the authenticity of the place. I picked up the kebsa because 1) a woman in a burqa put a jar in her basket, which seemed like a good sign, and 2) its blend of sumac, cinnamon, black pepper and “proprietary spices” sounded intriguingly good. A 50-50 blend of sumac and cinnamon can be substituted.

Apricot ribbons for grains

When the freekeh is no longer crunchy, and chews with just a little effort, it’s time to add the quinoa and a little water. When the freekeh has “chew,” but doesn’t require effort, the dish is done. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and stir in a cup of slivered apricots. Transfer to a bowl and top with toasted pumpkin seeds (or pine nuts, or sliced almonds). The dish is several shades of brown, so I like the color contrast added by the pumpkin seeds.

Best of all – you can make this a day ahead with a couple of tweaks. First, stop cooking just before it’s really done. Then spread it on a baking sheet so it cools quickly. Drizzle it with a little olive oil and transfer to an oversized container so it won’t be packed in as it sits in the refrigerator overnight. Add the apricots the next day, along with 3/4 cup. Stir to combine and heat it slowly, covered over low heat on the stove, or covered in the oven.

And, if you have leftovers? Make small patties and cook them in a skillet with a little butter or olive oil for a freekeh breakfast treat.

grains served w pumpkin seeds