It’s Whole Grain Sampling Day, and time to celebrate a grain we love. I’m doing my “Sophie’s Choice” and picking freekeh for the day.
Or, I should say, “green-wheat freekeh,” the full name of this ancient and outstanding grain. Why green wheat? Well, the story goes, back in 2300 BC, a city in the Mediterranean was under siege, so they picked their wheat before it was ripe, and stashed it in a hiding spot. The city was burned, and the hiding spot, as well. After the fire went out, the hungry suriviors discovered that because the wheat was green, unripe, and full of juice, it didn’t burn. In fact, this act of aggression had only resulted in toasting the green wheat to a tasty smokiness, and pre-cooking it as well.
The other unexpected benefit of this act of war is that the freekeh is even more nutritious than ripe wheat, because it is picked early. According to the Greenwheat Freekeh site, freekeh stands out with higher protein (12 % protein, vs 7% for brown rice) and a remarkable amount of vitamin E.
Freekeh deserves to shine, it’s a grain on the move. Everyone who tries it is pleasantly surprised by the full flavor, chewy texture, and quick cooking times. The process of making freekeh gives it a subtle smokiness, and we know that smoke flavors are sources of umami, giving the grain a more substantial mouthfeel.
It’s an ancient form of wheat, so today I am pairing it with another oldie but goodie. I have a perennial sorrel plant in my garden, and it comes up with the crocuses, earlier and earlier every year.
Sorrel is an ancient food, and the cultivation of it in France and Italy in the Middle Ages was the beginning of the effort to breed milder, softer sorrel. Tangy as it is today, it must have been a mouth-puckering experience eating the original versions. The name sorrel is in fact derived from the word sour, and it is sometimes called sour grass, and pickled sorrel, called “sour dabs” was fed to English school children well into the 20th century.
I wonder if they liked it. Probably limp, khaki colored and salty-sour, I’m betting it was about as popular as cod-liver oil and canings. Too bad, because sorrel can be a vibrant, delicious herb, in the right hands.
The distinctive taste of sorrel is due to oxalic acid, which is present in much lower concentrations in spinach. Oxalic acid does inhibit the absorption of iron, so veg be aware, and don’t get carried away. Eat your iron foods at another time of day, and make sure to include vitamin C foods to encourage absorption.
So why deal with this puckery, iron-deflective plant? Well, like the freekeh, it has some great nutrition, and that flavor is great fun to play with. It’s high in calcium, iron, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin C and B9, of all things. Like all greens, it has no fat, and cooks in an instant.
For this salad, I played with the smokiness of the freekeh and the lemony qualities of sorrel. Because it is so lemony and also a green, it takes the place of both lemon juice and parsley in tabouli.
So when you go to the store to look for freekeh, make sure to ask for “freek-uh,” which is the proper pronunciation. It’s fun calling it “freaky,” but that is incorrect.
Serves 2 as a side, can become a main course with the addition of a cup of cooked garbanzos or a handful of toasted shelled pistachios. Make sure you wash the sorrel really carefully-grit can hide in the leaves.
1/2 cup cracked freekeh
1 cup water
1 cup (gently packed) sorrel leaves, ribs removed
1 cup fresh mint leaves, also gently packed
1 lage clove garlic
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt, lots of cracked black pepper
1/2 cup diced seedless cucumber
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup chopped chives or scallions (my chive plant is right next to the sorrel, parsley and mint)
In a small saucepan with a lid, bring the freekeh and water to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 20 minutes. Check in 10, if your burner doesn’t go low enough, it may have boiled off the water too quickly. Just add more, cook for the 20, and then let stand for 10 to absorb. If there is extra water in the pan, drain the grain. Cool to room temp.
In a food processor, put the sorrel, mint and garlic. Process to mince finely, scraping down and processing again. Add the oil and process until smooth. Add salt and pepper and pulse to mix. Pour over the cooled grain. Add the cuke, tomatoes and chives or scallions, and toss to mix.
Sorrel in my Garden