Freekeh is smoked wheat. It has been a part of the diet in the Levant and Egypt for millennia, and even gets a mention in medieval Baghdad texts. Young green wheat is sun-dried and then torched. Because there is so much sap inside the wheat, only the chaff burns off, leaving the inner kernel roasted but intact. The wheat is then rubbed and thrashed, and left in the sun a little more: it is either packed whole or cracked so that it resembles coarse bulghur wheat. It is now being touted as a super-food (among other things, it may help you ‘see in the dark’ owing to its high lutein levels): this is much to the amusement of my ethnic customers, who find it funny when us Westerners ‘discover’ a ‘new’ ingredient.
Heat a splash of oil in a saucepan and sweat the onion and celery. Once they are soft, turn up the heat, add the freekeh and stir well so that it toasts a little. Now add the vegetable stock and orange juice, bring the liquid to the boil, cover the pan and turn down to a simmer. Cook for around 40 minutes (unless you are using the cracked grain, in which case it will take half this time), stirring occasionally and adding a little water if necessary. Once it is cooked (it should still be quite firm), remove and allow to cool.
Bring a pan of water to the boil and blanch the orange peel for around 3 minutes, then drain. Next, heat a dribble more oil in a frying pan and toast the peel with the coriander, pomegranate, cumin and fennel seeds for a couple of minutes. Tip them into a grinder or pestle and morta, and grind them together with the rose petals and chilli flakes. Add this mixture to the olive oil, and leave for 30 minutes or so for the flavours to mingle.
Drain and chop the apricots and add these to the freekeh along with the nuts and herbs. Whisk the vinegar into the spiced oil and season to taste before stirring it through the freekeh. This keeps well for a day or so and leftovers make a good lunchbox filler.
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