Meet freekeh, an ancient grain on the cusp of going mainstream.
In food, as in fashion, everything old is new again. Only in the case of the ancient Middle Eastern grain freekeh, we're talking centuries old, not seasons. The ingredient has been popular for several hundred years in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt but is only now cropping up in American health-food stores and on progressive menus around the country.
Picked while green to retain its nutrients, then rubbed and roasted for a nutty, smoky flavor, freekeh has twice the fiber of quinoa and three times that of brown rice (however, unlike those comparable grains, freekeh is a type of wheat and therefore contains gluten). Additionally, it's rich in iron, calcium, and B vitamins and is a good source of protein.
"It's definitely a super-grain," says Keri Glassman, R.D., the author of The New You and Improved Diet, who notes that it also contains carotenoids, which prevent vision loss. "For the calories you're consuming (155 per quarter-cup serving), you're getting a lot."
Glassman suggests swapping freekeh for your morning oatmeal, or you can try a more refined version by in-the-know chefs like Jenn Louis, a Food & Wine Best New Chef of 2012, who regularly features it on her menus at Lincoln and Sunshine Tavern in Portland, Oregon. "I love the flavor of freekeh," Louis says. "The immature wheat lends a green profile to the flavor, while the burning technique adds toastiness."
Want to make it yourself? Louis recommends cooking it like pasta. "When it's a little toothy but not crunchy or raw, strain and season it with olive oil and lemon juice." Then pair it like a pro. "The two opposites in freekeh—toasty and immature—are a wonderful flavor combination to pair with bright flavors like mint, lemon, parsley, and olives."
Louis' favorite freekeh recipe is below.
Freekeh With Costata Romanesco Squash, Mint, and EggServes 4
Ingredients:6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil 2 large shallots, thinly sliced 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced 2 anchovy fillets 1½ medium costata romanesco squash, sliced into ¼ inch rounds 2 squash blossoms, stamen and stem removed, sliced into strips 8 mint leaves, chiffonade 1½ cup freekeh, cooked 6 chicken eggs ½ cup chicken stock Piment d'espelette (a variety of chili pepper; also called an espelette pepper) Maldon sea salt, for seasoning 3 tbsp Feta cheese, crumbled Extra-virgin olive oil, for finishing
Directions: In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add shallots, garlic, and anchovies. Mash together into a paste. Add squash and cook just until tender. Add squash blossoms and mint; stir to combine. Add freekeh and stock and season with piment d'espelette and sea salt. Crack eggs over freekeh mixture and cover. Over medium-low to medium heat, cook just until whites of eggs are set. Garnish with additional sea salt, finishing with Feta cheese and olive oil.
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