Roasted Green Wheat with Chicken ( Freekeh ma’ djej)

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Before Lebanese folks were introduced to rice and adopted it wholeheartedly, roasted green wheat or freekeh was the main staple. It is basically wheat harvested while still green and smoked  in the fields. The farmers would then crack it (or keep it whole)  and store it  to eat throughout the year. It is available at middle-eastern stores under the name freekeh or frikeh, either in boxes or bags or in bulk. It is extremely nutritious. If you thought brown rice was the most nutritious, think again! Freekeh ( pronounced free-ka) has 4 times more iron, calcium, potassium, zinc, than brown rice!! When you cook it, its smoky flavor fills the kitchen and when you eat it you feel closer to the earth!

Freekeh can be used in so many ways: as a side dish, like rice; in a pilaf, with meat or veggies; in salads or soups. I found an Australian company that is planning to market bars similar to oatmeal bars using freekeh instead..

INGREDIENTS: Quantity will yield 4 generous servings.

  • 1 3-pound chicken ( I used 2 cornish hens)
  • 1 cup of freekeh
  • 12 small onions
  • 1 cup of chicken broth ( can substitute a chicken cube)
  • Spices consisting of :   1 cinnamon stick, a few sprigs of parsley, a carrot, a rib of celery ( for the chicken broth),  2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon, 2 teaspoons of ground allspice, salt ( to taste) and 1 teaspoon of black pepper.
  • 1/3 cup of olive oil

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METHOD:

  1. Clean the freekeh by  placing it in a sieve and running cold water on it and watching for stones or debris ( if you buy it in bulk)
  2. Clean the chicken by rubbing a cut lemon all over it (optional) or running cold water on it and drying it with a paper towel. Sprinkle all the spices on it and set aside.
  3. Peel the onions.
  4. Heat the olive oil and brown the chicken all over. Set it aside.
  5. Brown the onions in the oil or some additional oil. Set aside.
  6. Place the chickens in a large pot and add the broth (or water and a cube) to make the broth needed to cook the freekeh in and finish cooking the chicken. About 1 1/2 quarts of liquid should be sufficient. Add the cinnamon stick, sprigs of parsley, carrot, bay leaf, etc. Cover the pot and let it come to a boil.
  7. Lower the heat and let it simmer gently for 30 minutes or so until the chicken is cooked through.
  8. In the skillet ( in which you have previously browned the onions) place the freekeh and stir-fry gently until all the grains are coated in oil.  At this point, use a ladle and pour 3 cups of the chicken broth on the freekeh and cover the skillet. Let it simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until the liquid has been absorbed. The freekeh needs to be moist and tender, if it is not, add more broth and cook a bit longer.
  9. When it is ready, serve with the chicken and onions on a large serving platter. The extra broth can be either serve on the side (make a sauce with a couple of tablespoons of cornstarch) or frozen for a soup at a later date.
  10. Present plain yoghurt at the table with it if you wish. Sahteyn!

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5 Comments

  1. Dana
    Posted October 10, 2009 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Hi Joumana,

    The cold weather we’re having these days calls for hearty meals. I have been meaning to cook freekeh for a while and finally got to do that today. I had my Mom’s recipe. It’s very similar to yours; she sautes a small onion in a bit of olive oil and butter with the freek kernels and adds to the spice mix a bit of cumin, caraway, and nutmeg. I served it with a simple tomato sauce on the side ( slow simmered ripe fresh tomatoes with satueed shallots and garlic).

    I was at the market today and found the nicest chevre this side of the atlantic. If you are a fan as well, check it out at http://www.onpureground.com; I have tried their plain chevre and “honey and fig chevre” so far; both delicious.

    I also came back with a big bag of sweet potatoes and was wondering if you have in your repertoire of Lebanese cooking a Lebanese recipe that utilizes sweet potatoes.

    Thanks as always and happy cooking!

    Dana-

  2. Joumana
    Posted October 10, 2009 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    Hi Dana
    I love your mom’s recipe. It is simple but flavorful. I will have to add some caraway next time! and the tomato sauce offsets the freekeh real well. My next project was to make freekeh with veggies, no meat. I checked out the website for the cheese, I had no idea that fresh chevre was being made nearby! I was planning to post on labneh balls with goat cheese and I have been looking for goat milk to buy. I wonder if wholefoods sells goat milk. ???
    As far as sweet potatoes, I love them so much I would eat them fried like french fries. OK, I guess you can do bake them in the oven with some olive oil! I did some potato kibbe a while back with sweet potatoes. If I think of something else, I will keep you posted! Take care, Joumana

  3. Dana
    Posted October 10, 2009 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    Merci Joumana. I’ll defnitely try the potato kibbe and sweet french fries!

    Rehoboth ranch sells fresh goat milk but you have to go to the ranch to get it. My coworker swears by it and says that its the best he’s ever had (he is a turkish foodie).

    Layla farm (www.luckylayla.com) sells fresh cow milk daily. I am not sure if they have goat milk and maybe it is worth it to call and ask since they are located here in Plano and would be a shorter drive than going to Rehoboth’s.

    I was lucky this year and my Mom in law brought us fresh village goat labne from Lebanon and she preserved it for us in olive oil. I am not sure what to do when our supply runs out; we eat them like candy and I have tried the commercial ones at the middle eastern market and they tasted like cardboard :(

    Good luck and have a great weekend!

  4. Joumana
    Posted October 11, 2009 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    Wow, Dana, you are always so full of resources! I will check our Layla and Rehoboth. Could be a fun outing. Are you talking about embreess? my sister-in-law Zalfa loves the stuff. Anyway, I am excited about trying to make it at home!
    Have a wonderful Sunday, Joumana

  5. saer
    Posted January 30, 2011 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    you are talking as if Freekeh and the way you cook it is a Lebanese invention???? Its is better to refer to it as oriental because this recipe was definitely found before Lebanon did exist.

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