Get Your Freekeh On

(nytimes.com) – Chefs are coming up with all sorts of inspiring ideas for grains, and I was lucky enough to learn about some of them at last November’s Whole Grains: Breaking Barriers conference organized in Boston by Oldways and the Whole Grains Counsel. I moderated a panel of three local chefs: Ana Sortun of Oleana and Sarma, Jason Bond of Bondir, and Barry Maiden of Hungry Mother, as well as Liz l’Etoile of Four Stars Farms, a small Massachusetts farm that is producing and milling wheat, corn, rye, barley and hops. Boston area chefs are delighted that they can now get local grains, milled only days before delivery.

The panelists spoke about how they are using whole grains on their restaurant menus and how the public is responding to them. I was very excited about the dishes they described and couldn’t wait to get back to my kitchen to try out some of their ideas, like Ana Sortun’s bulgur and squash kibbeh made with freshly milled wheat, the teff polenta that Jason Bond seasons with chipotle, and the farrotto (farro risotto) that Barry Maiden makes with farro that he has soaked and then broken down in a food processor. Chef Maiden’s idea was especially appealing to me, because at long last I could see how I could make a creamy risotto with hard whole grains. I can imagine using this method for other robust grains as well, like barley and spelt.

One of the new old grains that peaked my interest at the conference was freekeh, a green wheat product that is popular throughout the Middle East but seems to be just catching on here. It has a smoky/earthy flavor, the result of the production process that I describe in this week’s freekeh salad recipe, and it is bound to win over the hearts and palates of those who can still appreciate wheat.

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