Culinary Ennui? Try Freekeh

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Freekeh, Fava, Fennel and Eggplant Salad

Moving forward with a healthy diet sometimes pushes us to reach back in time.  

Freekeh, a rediscovered form of wheat used in ancient Egypt, Syria and Lebanon, recently caught my eye and palate. If you like food romance, the following story of this ancient grain, described on, may inspire you to give it a try:

“….in 2300 B.C., a nation in the Eastern Mediterranean was anticipating an attack on their city. Worried about losing their crops and starving, they picked the green heads of wheat and stored them. When the city came under fire, the green wheat was burnt. The people discovered that, when rubbed, the green grains inside were still fit to eat. In the ancient Aramaic language freekeh means ‘to rub.’ “

Here’s my inspiration – a freekeh salad with Middle Eastern flavors and seasonal vegetables – fava beans, smoky grilled eggplant, fresh slivers of fennel, pistachio nuts. 

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

I drenched it with a dressing spiked with pomegranate molasses, za’atar, Aleppo pepper and toasted cumin seed.  (See the recipe for more information on the seasonings, if they are unfamiliar to you.) Fava beans, sometimes called broad beans, are popular in the Mediterranean and Middle East. The fava season is short so get them while you can and surrender yourself to the ritual of removing the beans from the pod, cooking them and then peeling them a second time. It’s worth it. (If you can find the small, younger pods you can cook and eat them whole.) 

Freekehlicious ™is the company that imports Greenwheat Freekeh™ into North America from Australia.  After harvesting soft, young wheat, Greenwheat Freekeh ™ boasts “a process that is natural and only uses fire and air” to parch, roast and dry the grain.  They offer two forms, whole and cracked. It is similar in texture and nutrition to two other forms of wheat with rich histories, bulgur and farro. 

The freekehlicious website states that 1/4 cup (uncooked, cracked form) contains 7 grams protein, 4 grams dietary fiber, 1.5 grams fat; 6% Daily Value (DV) for iron, 2% DV Calcium and 140 calories.  The whole form, which is similar to a wheat berry and takes longer to cook, has a little more protein, fiber, fat and calories. 

I found the cracked form of freekeh deliciously chewy and nutty – and a flavorful alternative to the “same-ole” potato and pasta salads for summer dining.  


Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Freekeh, Fava, Fennel and Eggplant Salad

Start preparing the eggplant before cooking the favas and freekeh so all ingredients will be ready about the same time. See below for information on the seasonings. This salad is tastiest served at room temperature. 

1 1/2 pounds fava beans

1 cup cracked freekeh

1 1/2 cups grilled eggplant cubes (see below)

1 cup thinly sliced fresh fennel

1/4 cup thinly sliced green onion

1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

1/3 cup roasted pistachio nuts


1 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses

1 1/2 teaspoons za’atar seasoning

1 teaspoon toasted cumin seed (see below)

1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper, crushed red pepper or sriracha (optional)

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Remove fava beans from pods and cook in a large saucepan of boiling, lightly salted water for 2 minutes or till just tender. Drain and cool. Peel beans again to measure about 1 cup. Set aside.  In the same pan, cook freekeh in boiling, lightly salted water for 15 to 20 minutes, until tender but still chewy. Drain well and place in a large bowl.  Stir in fava beans, eggplant, fennel, green onion and cilantro.   For dressing, stir together vinegar, pomegranate molasses, za’atar, cumin seed, Aleppo pepper and salt.  Add a few grinds of black pepper.  Stir in olive oil.  Drizzle over salad and toss to blend. Taste and adjust seasonings to your preferences.  Cover and chill if made ahead.  Bring to room temperature before serving for best flavor.  Add pistachios right before serving to preserve their crunch.   Makes 4 servings.

To prepare eggplant:  Peel eggplant and cut into 3/4-inch slices.  Place in a single layer on a clean kitchen towel.  Sprinkle both sides with salt.  Set aside for 30 minutes.  Pat eggplant slices dry.  Brush or spray both sides lightly with olive oil.  Sprinkle with  black pepper.  Grill,turning once, until tender.  Cool.  Cut into bite-size pieces.  Eggplant slices can also be roasted in a 400° oven on a lightly oiled baking sheet for 15 minutes or until tender. 

To toast cumin seed:  Place whole cumin seed in a small skillet over low heat.  Heat for a few minutes, stirring once or twice, until fragrant.

Seasonings: Aleppo pepper, named after the eponymous city at the end of the Silk Road, is grown in Turkey and Syria.  It is reminiscent of ancho peppers with a balanced, medium-hot taste.  Za’atar is  a Middle Eastern spice blend which varies with the manufacturer; I have several versions in my kitchen and chose one from Penzeys which has online ordering.  (There is also an herb called za’atar but it is not general available in this country.)  Look for pomegranate molasses in a well-stocked grocery store or one that specializes in Middle Eastern seasonings.  See my blog and recipe for Muhamarra which uses some of these seasonings. 

© 2013 Lorelle S. Del Matto

lorelle About lorelle

Crazy about cooking, eating and sharing good food – my work and leisure revolve around the kitchen. As a culinary dietitian my professional life encompasses nutrition counseling and education, recipe development, product development, food and nutrition writing, marketing communications, corporate test kitchen and consumer affairs management, food styling and work as a product spokesperson.


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