Lebanese Freekeh and Fig Salad – Freekehing Fabulous

Lebanese Freekeh and Fig Salad – Freekehing Fabulous

Move over quinoa, there’s a ‘new’ ‘grain’ in town.

Well, actually it’s not new, and quinoa is not a grain. But you know what I mean. Of course I’m talking about freekeh. And just to confuse us further freekeh is not  a grain, but a process. Actually it sounds to me more like a dance from the 70s, but never mind.

Freekeh comes from the Arabic verb “to rub,” and applies to young, green wheat. It is grown extensively in Levantine Basin countries where its first recorded use was in 2300 BC (read the history here).

This wonderful form of wholewheat – usually pronounced free-kah – is gaining kudos not only in terms of nutrition, but also its unique taste. What makes it stand out from all of the other glorious whole-grains is its nutty, toasted, almost smoky, taste. This is because after harvesting and drying in the sun the immature wheat is burned on the stalk, turning it a deep golden brown. Separated from the chaff the freekeh is then polished and cracked. Pretty much all of these processes happen in the fields where it grows. It is delicious and versatile stuff, too. Janet at Nutrition Unplugged calls it “the smoky cousin to bulgur wheat.”

Nutritionally it is probably most comparable to quinoa although, because it is wheat, it is not suitable for those who can’t tolerate gluten. Interestingly there are studies investigating whether the immaturity of the protein locked in the grain, as well as the burning itself, may lessen the gluten. In the Middle East and North Africa it is used extensively in pilafs, as a stuffing for vegetables, underneath roasted meats, as a substitution for rice and couscous, in tabbouleh and as a kind of porridge.

I have only recently been playing around with freekeh but I’m already thinking about getting more. And that’s the thing, it doesn’t seem to be easily available in UK shops, although it is available at Real Foods (2 Edinburgh shops and an online shop). Doubtless this will change, but please don’t go hunting the aisles at Sainsburys or Tesco looking for it. It ain’t there. I’ve fired off pleading letters to the supermarkets to get it stocked. It’s that good. UPDATE: as of summer 2014, most large supermarkets in the UK have freekeh! Yay!

Anyhoo, after putting you through a massively self-indulgent, prosey post last week, I will do the blogging equivalent of shutting my gob and just let you at the recipe. If you can’t get hold of  freekeh please try this with bulgur wheat or quinoa (toast lightly first if you can), or one of the whole-grain mixes available at most supermarkets. Just cook them as the packet directs, perhaps shaving off a a few minutes to keep some texture. I always find packet directions give me mushy grains – yuck.

Any freekeh freaks out there? How do you like to cook yours?

Lebanese Freekeh and Fig Salad

Last year: Apple and Oat Bars – we love these!

Two years ago: Japanese-style Butternut Squash and Black Bean Tacos

Miss R’s track of the week: Hudson Taylor – Second Best (which freekeh is most assuredly not!)

If you can’t get this gloriously smoky, toasty whole-grain (sniff) sub with quinoa or bulgur wheat. Try to toast these before using to subtly mimic the deep flavour of freekeh. In lieu of fresh figs you could try plums or nectarines, but the figs – all smoky and caramelly from the griddle  – are fabulous. If you are short of time just use the fruit as is, but griddling – ooh la la

This recipe is inspired by the grain salads found in The Lebanese Kitchen by Salma Hage.

1 tbsp olive oil (plus extra)

1 large (red) onion, coarsely chopped


  • 1 tbsp olive oil (plus extra)
  • 125g (3/4 cup) freekeh, sifted
  • 1 tsp dried mint
  • 2 tbsp dried sour cherries, barberries or mulberries (I like Pearls of Samarkand brand available at Real Foods)
  • 1 tbsp each chopped fresh mint and parsley
  • 2 ripe, black figs, sliced in quarters lengthways
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
Read the whole recipe on food to glow