Everywhere we look, something old is new again. On the West Bank, one of the old new things is a roasted grain called freekeh. (Pronounced “free-kah”). Husks of wheat are burned to yield young, green wheat kernels, which “take on a smoky, nutty flavor.”
Freekeh is an “ancient grain.” It’s been cultivated for more than 4,000 years. The grain is enjoying renewed popularity in Palestine, and may be destined for export. Nasser Abufarha, who founded the Palestine Fair Trade Association, says “freekeh is far more profitable for small-scale farmers to produce than ripe wheat.”
Decades ago, the grain lost ground to imported rice, which was cheaper. But with renewed interest in freekeh, Palestinian chefs are putting it back on the menu, and home cooks are also using it more. There is a sense of pride around freekeh, and production has nearly doubled in the last year.
Chef Johnny Goric of East Jerusalem’s Legacy Hotel says in the last two years he has added vegetables stuffed with freekeh to his menu, and he is planning to feature a freekeh risotto with arugula and Parmesan cheese next month. The young wheat imparts a deeper flavor to the dishes, he says.
“We used to cook mostly European food,” says Goric, who is also a judge on the Palestinian Masterchef TV reality cooking show. “Now we are running back to our heritage.”
A fascinating read. Cheslow also produces a radio show called the Tel Aviv Table. Absolutely worth a listen.
Note: Freekeh is attracting growing interest abroad, including in the United States. It’s high in protein and fiber and low on the glycemic index. Cheerios’ is now marketing an “Ancient Grains” cereal. No freekeh…but it does contain other ancient grains, such as Kamut wheat, spelt and quinoa. You can find freekeh products at health food stores, on Amazon and in some retail grocery chains, including Trader Joe’s.