Warm Freekeh Salad with Fig, Feta & Caramelised Onions
I prepared this dish at a recent cooking demonstration during an event hosted by Lebanese Wines at Atelier des Chefs in London. It was incredibly popular and while I’d made double the quantities required, we actually ran out within the first hour. It’s a lovely salad made from freekeh which is ideally served warm. The smoky, nuttiness of the freekeh is balanced out with the sweetness of the figs and the pungent feta. And then there’s the caramelised onions which I find simply make everything taste better, and for a nice finish, a tart lacing of verjus. It’s a great dish to serve during the upcoming holiday season whether as a canape, a side dish or a filling mid-week main.
Freekeh is a wheat grain (usually green or light brown depending on source ). It is an ancient grain and cereal food whereby the wheat is harvested young when it is still full of moisture; it is then sun-dried before being burned or roasted over an open fire for several minutes. Once cool it is then rubbed to separate it from the chaff. Its name is derived from the Arabic root “Al Fark” or to rub. This results in the freekeh having its characteristic nutty undertone and smoky aroma.
Freekeh is also an outstanding grain and a nutritional powerhouse. It is high in fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals and although not yet proven, some believe it to be suitable for gluten-free diets as the gluten is denatured due to the high temperature burning process.
Either way, freekeh is incredibly delicious and as I’ve been saying all along, it’s only a matter of time before this grain becomes as mainstream and in demand as hummus. Just remember you saw it here first
Finally, verjus (from French: green juice) or hosrom in Arabic, is another ingredient that is starting to catch on too. So what is verjus, exactly? Simply, it’s the juice of unripe grapes. It can be used as a substitute for lemon and in fact in Lebanon, it is used in remote villages in the winter to replace Lemon. It’s wonderful in sauces, dressings (try with tabouleh) and works well if you want an alternative to wine for deglazing. Just remember that a little can go a long way and the amount required will depend on the quality of the verjus you are using.
Where can I buy these ingredients?
I’ve purchased verjus in the UK online from Melbury & Appletone and can recommend their verjus. I always bring large amounts of freekeh back with me from my trips to the Middle East, so I’ve never been pushed to buy it here. However, Melbury & Appletone also offer it, although I can’t recommend it from experience. Of course, most substantial Middle Eastern grocers in and around London will sell these ingredients, too, and as with everything, quality will vary. In the US, freekeh is available from Cayuga Pure Organics and Trader Joes. Freekeh can be found cracked (simmer 10-15 minutes) or whole grain (simmer 30-35 minutes). If anyone knows of where verjus can be found in the US, please feel free to leave the information in the comments section.
Note: Taste Lebanon May 2012 Tour dates have been announced. If you want to join me on a Culinary Journey across Lebanon (May 1oth-18th, 2012), then be sure to head on over and register as soon as possible. These are very personal tours with extremely limited spaces available (4-5 people allowed only!)
Warm Freekeh, Fig, Feta & Caramelised Onion Salad
- 2 red onions, finely sliced
- 2 tbsp sunflower oil
- 250g/ 9 oz cleaned, whole grain green wheat freekeh,
- 100g/3 1/2 oz dried figs, chopped
- 100g feta cheese, crumbled
- Pinch of allspice
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp verjus
- Coriander, parsley or mint, to garnish
- Place a heavy-based frying pan on medium heat, add oil and fry onions till golden brown. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towel and set aside.
- Meanwhile, add the freekeh to a pot, cover with plenty of water (about 600 ml/2fl oz/ 2 1/2 cups water seasoned with salt), cover and bring to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for about 30 minutes, until the freekeh is cooked to your liking. If the freekeh is too wet, drain excess water and season with allspice and more salt if required. Mix in olive oil and verjus and mix well. Adjust seasonings to taste. Freekeh will drink a lot of olive oil; the more the creamier.
- Once the freekeh is cooked, assemble on small individual dishes with the freekeh as a base and top with figs, caramelized onions, feta cheese and garnish with herb of choice. Serve as part of canapes or if you’d like to serve it in a big bowl as a side, then mix the ingredients together excluding the feta (it disintegrates easily). Once the salad is mixed, top with the feta and garnish with herb of choice.