Freekeh with Summer Squash and Brown Butter
I was having lunch with a Lebanese girlfriend of mine recently when she pointed out freekeh on the menu. I had never heard of it, so, of course, I had to order! It was served like a pilaf to accompany a fish, tasted like a nuttier, slightly smoky brown rice, and had a toothsome texture.
After some research, I was really surprised that it’s not more well known. Freekeh is a roasted green wheat and can be found throughout Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Jordan. It’s an incredibly healthy whole grain, comparable (if not superior) to quinoa, a rich source of nutrients with high fiber and protein. It’s harvested young and then roasted in the fields over an open fire, giving it that smoky quality.
The mixed summer squash at the Union Square Greenmarket looked too shiny and beautiful to resist the other day, and I thought it would pair well with the freekeh. I roast the squash off here with some sweet cherry tomatoes and prepare the freekeh similarly to rice. The coriander and cinnamon work really well with the sweetness of the squash and the smokiness of the freekeh, and the pine nuts are great for texture. This is so delicious I’ve given up my carnivorous ways for a few days, snacking on it at intervals.
And the pièce de résistance? Nutty, glistening, warm brown butter. I love to use brown butter in place of regular butter in a dish like this or even in breads and cakes; it really elevates and deepens the flavor.
Freekeh also goes by the name frik, farik or even roasted green wheat, so if you are shopping for it, I would ask by all names. I picked up my freekeh at Sahadi’s on Atlantic Ave. in Brooklyn, but I know a number of the Middle Eastern specialty shops in the area carry it. Kalustyan’s also carries it in store and online.
Yields 4 to 6 servings
2 cups freekeh, whole (not cracked)
1 lb mixed summer squash, medium dice
¾ cup cherry tomatoes, whole
olive oil, salt, & pepper
2 ½ tbsps canola oil
½ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp white pepper
1 scallion, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
4 tbsps brown butter *
handful of parsley, chives, and/or cilantro, chopped
Preheat oven to 400° F.
Pour freekeh in a bowl and pick through for any stones or off pieces. Rinse freekeh with several changes of water until the water runs clean. Cover the freekeh with fresh water and soak for a half hour. Strain off all excess water.
Combine diced squash and tomatoes in a bowl. Lightly coat in olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a baking sheet in a single layer and roast for 15-20 minutes until soft but still with a bit of firmness.
Heat a pot or a dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add canola oil. When hot, add onions and coat with the fat. Add coriander, cinnamon, white pepper and a pinch of salt to draw out the moisture. You just want to sweat out the onions until they are translucent, so be careful the heat isn’t too high or they will start to brown.
When the onions are translucent, add scallions and garlic. Cook for one minute, and then add freekeh. Toast the freekeh in the pot, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. The freekeh should become aromatic.
Add the vegetable or chicken stock, and bring up to a boil. Lower to a simmer and simmer covered for 45 minutes. Turn off heat, remove cover, and let stand uncovered 5 minutes.
Toss in the summer squash, tomatoes, pine nuts, and brown butter. Add chopped herbs and adjust seasoning as necessary.
* Brown butter is really easy to make, but it has to be watched. Simply heat the butter in a pan over medium low. Once the foam starts to subside, watch the color of the milk solids that sink to the bottom of the pan. They should turn brown, and the butter should take on the smell of toasted hazelnuts. At that point, remove immediately from the heat by pouring into another container. The solids go from brown to black quickly, so it’s important to stop the cooking process as soon as the hazelnut stage is achieved. Also, I like to scrape the solids off the pan into whatever I’m cooking – there’s a ton of flavor there.