“Risotto,” of course, means it’s made with rice. But “charred wheat stew” doesn’t sound as appetizing as it actually is. So with the creative culinary expression invokable by quotation marks, I’ll allying this recipe with it’s Italian cousin, risotto, because it’s made the exact same way. And for those who don’t have freekeh, and don’t want to scope it out, can make it the traditional way with rice.
For those willing to do a bit of searching, freekeh is fire-roasted green (unripe) wheat, whose charred hulls get removed, leaving just the lovely greenish grains for cooking. Because the whole wheat berries take a long time to cook, most of the freekeh is cracked and sold that way. It should say on the package – if not, look at the suggested cooking time; whole berries will take about an hour to cook whereas the cracked will take about half that time, or less.
Freekeh has become one of my new favorite foods. And it’s not just because it’s a big bowl of carbohydrates, but anything with a smoky flavor immediately gets a pass to move right to the top of my eating list. I was fortunate because my friend Anissa Helou brought me two big boxes of freekeh on her last visit to Paris, and my other friend Bethany works with the folks at Freekehlicious, and sent me two packets of the stuff to try as well. I love friends – and freekeh!
So I’ve been getting my “freek” on, if you’ll excuse the pun. (And in this case, I can’t quite let the quotation marks let me off so easy.) I first made a variation on my Roasted Root Vegetable and Wheat Berry Salad, adding a Lebanese touch with a big pinch of allspice mixed in at the end, which got top marks with dinner guests. Then I cooked up a bumper crop of artichokes that I scored at the market, and made this for lunch, which got similar kudos. (And no bad puns.)
Artichoke Freekeh Risotto
Middle Eastern stores are good places to find freekeh; I saw several kinds when shopping the other day at Sabah (140, Faubourg St. Antoine, Paris) and you can find it online, as well as in some natural food stores. Be sure to follow the instructions for cleaning it on the package. Some recommend sorting through it carefully to remove any debris. I also pre-soak it, which makes it cook a little more quickly and any debris that rises to the top can easily be discarded.
You can also use arborio or carnaroli rice to make this, in place of the freekeh. If using rice, do not rinse it and there is no need to presoak it. For vegetarians, it’s absolutely fine to use vegetable stock and omit the bacon. You can vary the herbs, replacing the parsley with fresh mint or tarragon, or replace the thyme with chopped rosemary leaves.
For the artichokes, you can use already prepared artichoke (tinned or jarred) hearts, sliced, or better yet, fresh. Check out my post: How to Prepare and Cook Artichokes.
- 1 1/2 cups (220 g) freekeh (cracked, not whole)
- 4 1/2 cups (1.05 l) chicken or vegetable stock
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 onion, peeled and diced
- 1/2 cup (75 g) diced bacon
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) dry white wine
- 2 cups (450 g) sliced artichokes
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
- 2 tablespoons minced flat leaf parsley
- zest of one lemon, unsprayed or organic
- 3/4 cup (70 g) grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
1. Rinse the freekah in a colander then put it in a bowl and cover it with cold water. Let sit 30 minutes. Drain well and set aside.
2. Bring the stock to a simmer in a saucepan and keep it hot while you make the risotto.
3. Heat the olive oil in a wide saucepan. Add the onion and bacon and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the freekeh and garlic, then the white wine, and cook for a minute, stirring.
4. Ladle enough hot stock over the freekeh so it is just barely covered. Cook the freekeh, and when that stock is almost absorbed, add another ladleful of stock. Continue cooking, adding stock at it gets absorbed into the freekeh, until you’ve added about two-thirds of the stock.
5. Add the cooked artichokes, parsley, and thyme, and continue to cook, adding more stock, until the freekeh is tender and all the stock is absorbed. Add the fresh lemon zest and parsley, stir a few times, then remove from heat and stir in the cheese.
6. Taste, and add a bit of salt or a squeeze of lemon, if desired. Top with additional parsley or grated cheese, if desired.
Variation: You can add a generous handful of fresh or frozen peas or fava beans toward the end of cooking.
Freekeh Salad (Katherine Martinelli)
Freekeh with Slow-Roasted Lamb Shank (Syrian Foodie)
Freekeh with Chicken (SBS Food)