Freekeh (pronounced free-kah) is roasted green durum wheat.
Actually, “roasted” at least traditionally, is a bit of a euphemism: The green wheat, straw, chaff and all, was gathered into a pile and set ablaze. When the fire burned down, the grain was rubbed and threshed to remove the straw and chaff.
The kernels, which, because they are still green and have a high moisture content, are unburnt, but nicely toasty and subtly smoky. Apparently, we owe this delicious, healthy grain to ancient military technology gone awry – the story goes that the intention was to destroy the crops of the enemy by fire.
Freekeh has been popular in North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean for millennia. The name derives from the Arabic word for “rubbed”.
You can buy freekeh whole, or cracked. The cracked version is less chewy and cooks more quickly –15 or 20 minutes instead of about 45 minutes for whole. Ours is whole, but it is easily cracked in a food processor or blender.
Like all forms of durum wheat, freekeh is high in protein (twice as much as quinoa), and its nutty, earthy, slightly smoky flavour is exquisite in pilafs, salads – in anything where you might otherwise use rice or barley. (Freekeh is not gluten-free.)