A Hearty Freekeh Grain Bowl with Roasted Veggies
Freekeh is a traditional whole grain from the Middle East and Northeastern Africa. It is wheat that is harvested early (when still green), and then sun-dried, flame-roasted, and rubbed. This process lends a uniquely nutty, smokey flavor to the grain, making it a wonderfully sturdy base for deeply roasted vegetables and richer gamier meats, like lamb, goat, or duck. Furthermore, it is packed with both protein and fiber, and is relatively low on the glycemic index.
Purchasing Notes: Though freekeh is relatively new to the North American market, there are several brands out there. I highly recommend Canaan Organic Fair-trade Freekeh, which you can buy online or at certain specialty markets. Bob’s Red Mill, Ziyad, and Mid East are some other more commonly found brands. Check your local health food store or Middle Eastern market, if you have one. It will be packaged either as whole grain or “cracked,” meaning broken up into smaller bits. The whole grain version, which is chewier and somewhat similar to bulgar wheat, cooks in about 35-45 minutes. The cracked version, which comes out lighter and fluffier, cooks in about 15-20 minutes.
A Hearty Freekeh Grain Bowl with Roasted Veggies
This particular recipe is a grain bowl of sorts, but transcends the category with its deep, earthy, and smoky (almost meaty) heartiness. The freekeh is topped with crispy pan-fried mushrooms, roasted broccolini, withered kale greens, and warm bursting cherry tomatoes, then drizzled with a creamy lemon-tahini sauce. If you haven’t introduced freekeh into your life yet, this is a great start.
1 cup freekeh, preferably cracked, but whole will work as well
1 bunch broccolini
1 pound mixed mushrooms (shiitake, enoki, bunapi, oyster, maitake, etc)
1 bunch curly kale, de-veined and roughly chopped
a couple handfuls cherry tomatoes
1/3 cup tahini
zest & juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper
handful of chopped chives, parsley or cilantro, to serve (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 450° F. Using a brush or paper towel, clean any dirt off of the mushrooms. Remove stems from shiitakes or other similarly shaped mushrooms, and break off enoki, bunapi, oyster, or maitake (whatever selection you choose) into thin strips.
- Make the lemon-tahini sauce. Add the tahini, zest, and juice of lemon to a medium-sized bowl and whisk with a fork. The tahini will seize up a bit at first, but will return to a creamy consistency by the end. Add a bit of water to loosen up the mixture until you have a smooth, drizzle-able mixture that is not too watery. If you go too far with the water, you can always add a little more tahini to thicken it up. Season with a bit of salt, taste, and adjust until delicious. Set aside.
- Sort, rinse, and prepare the freekeh according to the package instructions.*
- Scatter the broccolini on a baking sheet and toss with olive oil and salt. Roast the broccolini in the oven, tossing once or twice, until cooked through and the florets are slightly crispy (about 10-15 minutes). Remove and let cool.
- While the freekeh and broccolini are cooking, heat a large skillet over medium heat. (Let it get hot for about 5 minutes before adding the oil.) Once the pan is hot, add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1/3 of the mushrooms, scattering them around the pan (making sure not to crowd it as you want the mushrooms to crisp up rather than steam). Tossing every few minutes, let the mushrooms get golden and crispy (about 10-15 minutes). Using a slotted spoon, transfer the mushrooms to a plate and season with salt. Repeat, working in batches and adding another tablespoon of oil to the pan each time, until all the mushrooms are crispy and golden. Finally, return all the mushrooms to the pan and cook for another 3-5 minutes, allowing them to heat and crisp up even more. Transfer to a plate.
- Topple the cherry tomatoes and kale into the same pan that you cooked the mushrooms in, taking care as it may sputter a bit. Season with salt and toss until the kale is wilted and the cherry tomatoes are just starting to burst (about 5 minutes).
Makes 4 servings
Takes 1 hour
Serve: In bowls with a generous serving of freekeh on the bottom, topped with the vegetables, drizzled with the lemon-tahini sauce. Add plenty of chopped herbs like chives, parsley, or cilantro (optional).
*Because the size of the grains can vary from brand to brand, it is best to follow the instructions on the package -- but as a general rule of thumb, the ratio is 1 cup of freekeh to 2 1/2 cups water, plus 1 teaspoon salt. I always rinse freekeh well before cooking, and I like to briefly sauté the grains with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, a teaspoon of salt, and a good grind of pepper before adding the water. I find this brings out the nutty, smokiness of the grain even more. But you can skip this step and simply simmer the grain with water and salt according to the package instructions until the water is absorbed or the grain is fully cooked — whichever comes first (some brands indicate cooking until absorbed and some require straining out excess water, like pasta).
Cally Robertson is a Los Angeles-based chef and artist whose only rule of thumb in the kitchen is to cook seasonally and with economy, the goal being to get the most pleasure and use out of available ingredients. She is the host of Cally's Cafe, a pre-COVID-19 supper club, and a quilter of scraps and recycled fabrics.