Move Over Farro: Freekeh Is Your New Favorite Grain

Trust me, it is exquisitely good.

heinstirred/Getty

Freekeh may sound like some punishing gruel savored only within the confines of hippie communes, circa 1976. But don’t let the name freak you out. Consumed throughout the Eastern Mediterranean at least since the 13th century, freekeh is the unripe, toasted grains of an ancient wheat variety called durum—and it’s “exquisitely good,” as the Middle Eastern food expert Anissa Helou observes. (Here’s a concise description of its history and how it’s processed.)

The flavor is nutty and slightly smoky, and more appealing on its own than any other grain I know of, even my beloved farro. (In fact, my “Farro Recipe Generator” can be adapted for freekeh.) And it’s said to be a nutritional powerhouse—it trumps quinoa and brown rice in protein and fiber content per serving.

Freekeh is traditionally served alongside poached chicken after being simmered until tender in the resulting broth; here’s a classic Anissa Helou recipe for that excellent dish. I’ve been cooking it as if it were rice and using it as the basis for grain salads, which I love to have in the fridge for quick summer meals. Grains like freekeh make an ideal canvass in both texture and color for summer vegetables—green herbs, yellow squash, red tomatoes, and purple eggplant all pop against a freekeh background.

A recent trip to the farmers market yielded yellow patty-pan squash and parsley, which I transformed into a freekeh salad. All it was missing, I decided, was fresh mint, so I’m recommending adding that as well. Some crumbled feta cheese would also be a delicious garnish; a few toasted and chopped almonds or walnuts would add welcome crunch.

Freekeh Salad with Summer Squash and Herbs

1 cup dry freekeh
2 cups water or broth
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons of olive oil (total; see directions)
1 onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, crushed and minced
3 medium summer squash, any variety, diced
A good handful each of parsley and mint, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Place a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed pan with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat and add the freekeh. Let it toast, swirling the pan or stirring, for a couple of minutes, until the freekeh becomes fragrant. Add the water and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and let it simmer until the water has been absorbed, about 20 minutes. Let it sit for another 10 minutes, off-heat and covered. 

Dump the cooked freekeh into a large bowl.

Meanwhile, while the freekeh is cooking, place two tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet, set heat to medium, and add the chopped onion. Cook, stirring often, until the onion is translucent. (If it starts to scorch or brown, ease up on the heat). Add the garlic, and cook, stirring, for about another minute (until the garlic releases its aroma but before it burns), then add the squash and a pinch of salt. Toss it well to coat, and then allow the squash to cook, stirring often, until it’s slightly tender but still has a light crunch.

Dump the cooked squash into the bowl with the freekeh. Add a good dash of salt and pepper, the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, the lemon juice, and the chopped herbs. Toss gently until it’s well mixed, and taste, adding more salt and pepper if desired.

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot. That's what Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein tackles in her annual December column—"Billionaires Are Not the Answer"—about the state of journalism and our plans for the year ahead.

We can't afford to let independent reporting depend on the goodwill of the superrich: Please help Mother Jones build an alternative to oligarchy that is funded by and answerable to its readers. Please join us with a tax-deductible, year-end donation so we can keep going after the big stories without fear, favor, or false equivalency.

THE BIG QUESTION...

as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot.

Please read our annual column about the state of journalism and Mother Jones' plans for the year ahead, and help us build an alternative to oligarchy by supporting our people-powered journalism with a year-end gift today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.