Saturday, July 23, 2011

Farm Bulletin: Fabulous Frikeh

Last week I was fortunate to have the chance to go to Ayers Creek Farm in Gaston and watch the process involved in taking frikeh from field to table. Contributor Anthony Boutard is one of the only farmers in the United States producing this ancient foodstuff, and its extreme seasonality makes it an unparalleled treat.

Frikeh (freekeh, farik, etc.) is parched green wheat and a Middle Eastern specialty. We prepare it using the traditional method of collecting heads of wheat while the grain is still green (left), burning them (top photo) and then threshing the grain from the head. The process produces a jade green grain that is slightly charred and has a smoky quality. Although durum wheat is usually used, we have started using the much thinner-skinned soft red wheat, producing a more tender grain.

The parched wheat.

Using fire to process green grains is also practiced in southern Germany where spelt is roasted to produce grünkern, and in the southwestern United States where unripe corn in the soft dough stage is roasted and dried to produce chicos with their own characteristic light smokiness.

Anthony loading the parched grain into the threshing machine.

To prepare frikeh, rinse well in couple of changes of water. Pull out any errant hulls or chaff. Drain and put in a saucepan. Add water to about double the depth of the grain, or more. Bring to a boil and then simmer 45 minutes to an hour. Drain, salt as desired and store in the refrigerator without liquid.

The threshed grain, called frikeh, is spread on screens to dry.

At this point, the grain can be used in many different dishes. It appeals to the most careful vegans and raw meat omnivores. In it simplest use, we use frikeh to build a seasonal grain salad along the lines of tabbouleh, using olive oil, lemon juice, mint, parsley, cucumbers, and tomatoes, and perhaps a bit sauteed summer squash. Chef Naoko Tamura of Naoko Bento adds frikeh as a topping for her seasonal salads using a traditional Japanese soy and rice vinegar dressing.

Stacked screens are spaced apart to facilitate air circulation; the grain dries for two weeks.

Frikeh is delicious with yogurt and buttermilk. Nostrana serves a buttermilk and frikeh soup based on a similar soup from Deborah Madison's "The Savory Way."Linda Colwell guided us in putting together an Ayers Creek version of this soup. It uses two cups of frikeh in a quart of buttermilk. Add a couple tablespoons each of fresh cilantro and dill, a tablespoon of ground coriander toasted gently in a dry pan, and two cups of purslane whole if very young, or chopped coarsely. Linda also brought a jar of her tuna, and we made a tuna and frikeh salad (recipe on her blog).

Cold frikeh and buttermilk soup.

Yesterday, we prepared the Middle Eastern dish kibbeh using frikeh. In its traditional form, raw lamb is mashed with bulgar wheat in a mortar with parsley, onion and mint. The mixture is dressed and served raw as a tartar. Unfortunately, the raw version is seldom served in restaurants, and it is more often roasted with addition of spices. In our version, we ran a half pound of lamb through a meat grinder and then mixed it in with the herbs and frikeh. We dressed it with olive oil and lemon juice, and served it with salad and Siljans, the round rye crisp bread. Linda brought a pan of dolmas, stuffed grape leaves, to complete the feast.

Frikeh and albacore salad.

Frikeh is also very good in heated dishes. Egyptians stuff fowl, usually pigeon and chicken, with frikeh. Add it to a mix of sauteed vegetables. Its gentle smokiness and grassiness is welcome summer fare. If you plan on storing the frikeh, we suggest pouring it into a glass jar and keep it in the freezer. This preserve its quality. It is shelf stable, but the flavor drifts away over time. For us, though, it is linked with the flavors and texture of summer, and we have no inclination to prepare it in the winter.

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