Kelli Dunn on Why Freekeh is the Best Old-Yet-New Grain We Need to Try

published Sep 9, 2014
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(Image credit: Megan Gordon)

Put away your brown rice. Forget quinoa. This fall, freekeh is where it’s at. The Kitchn’s very own contributing editor Kelli Dunn has just published a brand new cookbook, Everyday Freekeh Meals, that tackles this new-to-us ancient grain head on and gives us plenty of ideas for how to cook with it.

What is freekeh, exactly? Glad you asked! Here’s what Kelli has to say about the grain that inspired her whole cookbook.

(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

First things first — what is freekeh?

In short, freekeh is wheat.

Freekeh is wheat that’s harvested while young and green. It’s sun-dried and roasted, during which time the straw and chaff are burned and rubbed off. It has a firm, chewy texture and a distinct flavor that’s earthy, nutty and slightly smoky.

You’ll find two varieties of freekeh: wholegrain freekeh and cracked freekeh. Wholegrain freekeh is just what it sounds like — the whole grain. It’s firm and chewy, with a texture that’s similar to wheat berries. Cracked freekeh is simply wholegrain freekeh that’s been cracked into smaller pieces. It’s similar in texture to bulgur.

You can think of freekeh as a “new” ancient grain. It’s been around for centuries, but it’s only recently started growing in popularity. It also has some great nutritional benefits. For example, serving for serving, freekeh is higher in fiber and protein, and lower in calories than comparable grains, like quinoa and brown rice. It also has a low glycemic index.

(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

What got you hooked on freekeh?

I first heard about and tried freekeh about a year ago. I eat a lot of whole grains; I love trying new foods; and at the time, I was on the hunt for a good quinoa alternative. Freekeh seemed like the perfect fit. Plus, I couldn’t resist the fun name.

I was really intrigued by it, and the more I cooked with it, the more I loved it. Most of all, I really love its versatility — you can use it any time you’d normally use rice or other grains like quinoa, farro, wheat berries, barley, and the like.

Where can we find it?

You can find freekeh in most grocery stores near other packaged grains. If you’re lucky, it may even be stocked in the bulk bin section. It’s becoming more widely available everyday. You can also find it online. I usually buy mine on Amazon.

Find Freekeh on Amazon

How do you cook freekeh?

Freekeh is really easy to cook! To make it on its own, it’s just a matter of combining freekeh with water or stock and a pinch of salt in a saucepan, then cooking it until the liquid is completely absorbed. The cracked freekeh cooks pretty quickly, in about 15 minutes, while the whole grain variety cooks in about 45 minutes.

I follow this basic cooking method for cracked freekeh, which yields about 1 1/2 cups of cooked grains:

How To Cook Cracked Freekeh

In a medium saucepan combine 1/2 cup cracked freekeh, 1 1/2 cups water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for approximately 15 minutes, until all the water has been absorbed. Remove the pan from the heat.

(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

What are some basic ways to start cooking with freekeh?

If you like steel cut oats, cracked freekeh makes such a great substitute! It gives your breakfast an earthier and nuttier taste, and it’s a fraction of the cooking time. This is one of the ways I first starting eating freekeh. There’s a chance I ate freekeh breakfast cereal every morning last winter.

I also love adding freekeh to homemade soup. It gives the soup a little more bulk and makes it a solid meal.

I love the mix of sweet and savory recipes in your book — talk about using freekeh in sweet dishes and baked goods.

Thank you! In the beginning of recipe development I was sort of dreading the dessert section. It felt so challenging! But once I got started with a few ideas it was a lot easier than I expected. There are so many natural fits for freekeh in desserts and baked goods, like using it to make pudding. Freekeh pudding is a fun play on rice pudding….but even better. You can also add cooked freekeh to muffins to give them texture and a little heartiness.

Freekeh is also a perfect addition to streusel! Instead of keeping it whole I process it using a spice grinder until it’s a fine powder. It adds texture and a nice crunch.

While you were developing the recipes for Everyday Freekeh Meals, what ended up being your most-used kitchen tool?

Such a great question! Definitely my dishwasher. I’m kidding…sort of, but not really. Probably my silicone spatulas. I use them all the time, they’re handy.

(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

For someone who’s never tried freekeh before, what one recipe (or two!) should they definitely try from your book?

If freekeh is totally new to you, the Fall Harvest Freekeh Salad is a great way to get started. It’s easy to make and filled with great seasonal ingredients that we all know, like apples, roasted butternut squash, pecans, black beans and shredded kale. There’s also a good helping of cooked wholegrain freekeh, of course!

The Freekeh Fried “Rice” is also great for beginners. This is a fun version of the take-out staple that we’ve probably all tried at some point. I love this recipe for a quick weeknight meal.

Do you have your own favorite recipe from the book? Which recipes have you made again and again?

Wow, it’s so hard to pick favorites! Ok, my favorite savory recipe is definitely the Sweet Potato and Black Bean Freekeh Sliders! I love these burgers so much! I know I’m slightly biased, but these are hands down the best veggie burgers I’ve ever had. We’ve been eating them all summer. They’re super flavorful, they hold together really nicely and they freeze well.

My favorite sweet recipe would have to be the Creamy Freekeh Pudding. This is a take on my favorite rice pudding recipe, except it’s even better than the original. I usually double the recipe because I always end up eating it so fast.

Thanks, Kelli! Readers, tomorrow we’ll share a recipe from Kelli’s book!

(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

Everyday Freekeh Meals is out now! Find Kelli’s book here: Everyday Freekeh Meals by Kelli Dunn

Read more about Everyday Freekeh Meals at Kelli’s personal blog: The Corner Kitchen