Going With the Grain Part I: Fig, Walnut & Freekeh Salad
As in what the freekeh?
If you don’t know this ancient grain, summer is the perfect time to give it a try.
It’s a lot like bulgur, except that freekeh is roasted young green whole wheat kernels, while the former is cracked, hulled parboiled whole wheat kernels. As such, bulgur cooks in a flash, while freekeh takes about 20 minutes or so. The tiny grains of both are packed with fiber and protein, and cook up with with a slight chewy texture. I think freekeh tastes just a little toastier.
Grains like these, which are staples of Middle Eastern cuisines, make incredible summer salads or side dishes. You’re probably already familiar with bulgar in tabbouleh salads. Freekeh can be used in the same way.
Enjoy it in this tasty, texture-tantalizing “Fig, Walnut & Freekeh Salad.”
The recipe is from the new cookbook, “Saffron in the Souks: Vibrant recipes from the heart of Lebanon” (Kyle), of which I received a review copy. It’s by John Gregory-Smith, a food and travel writer who specializes in Middle Eastern and North African cuisine.
Even if you’ve never explored Lebanon, you can take a vibrant taste with recipes such as “Garlicky Douma Dumplings,” “Sumac & Seven-Spice Roast Chicken,” “Spicy Tahini Sea Bass,” and “Dark Chocolate & Halva Tart.”
With an abundance of figs in the markets now, this salad is an irresistible way to show them off.
It’s a grain salad much like tabbouleh, only made with freekeh not bulgur. It also gets punch from pomegranate molasses and goat cheese, and more texture from walnuts. Although the recipe didn’t call for it, I toasted my walnuts before garnishing the salad with them. I always think it brings out their nuttiness more, so I added that to the recipe.
Instead of the called-for cilantro, I ended up using basil leaves, only because my garden is bountiful with them right now. If you are a cilantro hater, you could also swap in Italian parsley instead, too.
The recipe says it serves two as a main, and four as a side. With all the hearty grain, it’s a pretty filling dish, so it definitely serves two extremely generously. As a side dish, I think it could easily serve as many as six, so I added that.
While tabbouleh is predominant with the bright taste of mint, oregano, lemon and parsley, this freekeh salad plays up the sweet-sour fruity note with the syrupy pomegranate molasses, which pairs so nicely with the intense jammy sweetness of the fresh figs. Goat cheese adds a creamy richness with a hit of saltiness. And the sumac has a mysterious citrusy characteristic that grounds this salad in its Middle Eastern roots.
Serve the freekeh salad alongside grilled chicken, pork, salmon or shrimp. Any leftovers makes for a very fine lunch the next day that’s worth coveting.
Fig, Walnut & Freekeh Salad
(Serves 2 as a main or 4 to 6 as a side)
1 1/4 cups freekeh
4 scallions, finely chopped
A small handful of finely chopped cilantro leaves (or basil leaves)
2 small handfuls of finely chopped mint leaves
3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted, and chopped or based into a rubble
1 1/2 teaspoons sumac
4 figs, quartered
1 3/4 ounces feta cheese
Tip the freekeh into a pan and pour over plenty of just-boiled water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, turn down the heat to low, and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes until tender, but still with a good bite. Drain, refresh under cold running water, then drain again thoroughly.
Put the freekeh into a large mixing bowl and add the scallions, cilantro, half the mint, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, 2 tablespoons of the pomegranate molasses, just over half the walnuts, 1 teaspoon of the sumac, and a really good pinch of salt. Mix everything together really well and tip into a salad bowl.
Arrange the figs on top of the freekeh and crumble over the feta. Scatter with the remaining walnuts, sumac, and mint. Drizzle the remaining olive oil and pomegranate molasses over the top and serve immediately.
Adapted from “Saffron in the Souks” by John Gregory-Smith
And Another John-Gregory Smith Recipe to Try: Lemon and Apricot Cinnamon Chicken
Plus More Grain Salads to Love: Farro Salad with Fennel, Radicchio, and Pistachios
And: Strawberry Tabbouleh