By Habeeb Salloum
Our family who emigrated from Syria, brought their love of freekeh with them.
The first time that I remember relishing this cereal was on our homestead in Southern Saskatchewan. Every year just before our wheat crop ripened – that is the rare time we had a crop in that arid part of Canada – my mother would cut the wheat when it was turning yellow and the seeds were still soft.
The wheat was then spread to dry in the sun. After the straw was bone-dry the wheat was carefully set on fire so only the straw burned, but not the seeds. The high moisture content remaining in the seeds prevented them from burning.
The roasted wheat was then rubbed by hand to remove any chaff left on the kernels, with me and my siblings helping in the process. This stage of rubbing the cereal gave it its name fareek or, in English, freekeh. Again, the seeds were left in the sun to dry. Later we would coarsely grind the kernels to the same size as coarse burghul. This was to be our yearly supply of this healthy cereal in the few occasions that our wheat fields flourished.
Today no one has to go through the tiresome method of making freekeh by hand. It is factory-produced and can be found in many health stores and Middle Eastern food outlets. No more does a family have to work for hours rubbing the roasted green wheat to produce freekeh. The machines do the work.
This Mother’s Day, let mom and guests freak out for freekeh because it’s so
2-pounds chicken pieces, skinned and fat trimmed
2 three-inch cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 medium onion, quartered
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
6 tablespoons butter
2 cups freekeh, washed twice and drained well
4 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
In saucepan, place chicken pieces, cover with water then add the cinnamon sticks, salt, black pepper, onion, allspice baharaat and Aleppo pepper. Bring to boil, skim off scum, cover and cook over medium-low for 1 hour or until chicken is fully cooked. Remove chicken pieces with slotted spoon and debone, reserving the broth. Using a fork, shred chicken. Set aside.
Pour broth through strainer and reserve 4 cups.
In saucepan, melt butter then add freekeh and sauté over medium heat for 3 minutes. Stir in broth then chicken and bring to boil. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for 25 minutes, stirring a number of times and re-covering to ensure freekeh does not stick to bottom of saucepan. Turn off heat and keep covered and let sit for 20 minutes.
Transfer to serving platter and decorate with pine nuts and serve immediately.