We are grasping for a little color around here in Seattle lately; spring can't come soon enough. I know most of you are feeling the same way, and this salad of fennel, collards, sesame seeds and freekah was really born from a need for a fresh, bright, easy lunch that would allude to the fact that outdoor picnics are maybe — just maybe — not that far away.
Chopping and mincing aside, this is an extremely quick and nourishing salad that makes a stunner of a lunch box meal or a great and filling whole grain side dish with dinner. In terms of flavor and texture, it has a lot going for it — it boasts a nice crunch from the fennel, vibrant color from the collard greens, delightful toastiness from the sesame seeds and a toothsome bite thanks to the freekeh and chickpeas.
If you're not familiar with freekeh, it's wheat that is harvested while it's young and still green, and then it's roasted. It's nubby, much like bulgur wheat, but it has a really pleasant, nutty flavor. One of the things I love about freekeh in comparison to other wheats like farro or wheat berries? You can buy it as a whole grain or cracked, and in its cracked form it's relatively quick cooking (15 to 20 minutes or so). This makes it so versatile — you can use it in everything from breakfast porridge to dinner pilafs.
For this salad, I simply cook up the freekeh in a pot of boiling water and drain away the extra liquid. The cooked grain actually keeps for well over a week in the fridge, so I'll often cook more than I need for a particular recipe just so I have extra on hand to stir into soups, salads, or scrambles throughout the week.
I landed on this flavor combination thanks in large part to my partner, Sam. I've mentioned Sam here before; he's Lebanese and always makes sure that we are well-stocked in tahini, good olives, garlic and lots of warm spices like za'atar and coriander. I thought I could go one of two ways with the spice profile of this salad: either really spice it up with harissa or use mellower, warm spices like za'atar, coriander and allspice. Ultimately I decided that the warm, Mediterranean spices complimented the earthy, hearty freekeh so well. The generous spoonful of tahini and lemon cloaks the whole thing in bright (dare I say springy?) flavor.
My favorite way to enjoy this salad is as a light (yet surprisingly filling) lunch. I've also had it as a side dish alongside flank steak or a little leftover salmon. I think it's quite versatile and I've given some suggestions for substitutions in the Recipe Notes below. I so hope you enjoy the salad, and hope you get a little sunshine to compliment it soon.
Mediterranean-Spiced Freekeh Salad with Collard Greens and Chickpeas
For the salad: 1/3 cup (45 grams) sesame seeds
1 cup (185 grams) freekeh
1 bunch collard greens, de-stemmed, leaves thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
1 cup (170 grams) rinsed and drained chickpeas
1 small fennel bulb, quartered, cored and thinly sliced
For the dressing:
2 small garlic cloves, finely minced
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 1/2 tablespoons za’atar
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground allspice
Pinch sea salt and ground pepper
Warm a small, dry saucepan over medium heat and add the sesame seeds. Toast until fragrant and light golden-brown, 6 to 7 minutes. Shake the pan periodically to avoid burning. Once toasted, pour the seeds onto a clean plate and aside to cool.
Bring a medium pot of water to boil and add the freekeh. Bring back to a boil, then cover the pot and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the grains are al dente. Drain excess water and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine cooked freekeh, collard greens, chickpeas, and fennel. Whisk together garlic, tahini, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, and spices for the dressing in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Toss the salad with the dressing; season with additional salt and pepper as needed. Sprinkle the sesame seeds over top before serving.
Enjoy room temperature or cold. Cover and refrigerate leftovers for up to three days.
I think this recipe works well with any hearty, leafy green. If you'd prefer to use kale or even arugula —feel free.