This past week dragged on and on until it finally killed itself out of despair. I’m glad it’s over and I really needed some form of distraction to snap out of my misery. All the way from Canada my ultrasonic ears picked a distress signal from a dame in anguish. The mother of a cyber friend needed my immediate attention and help. While shopping, she found a bag of Freekeh on a supermarket shelf. Rumor has it that she was flooded by memories of the good old times from her native Lebanon and of the days she had spent at her mother’s in Aleppo. The miles and years of her Ghorbeh (estrangement away from home) made her forget how to prepare a most delicious dish of Freekeh. So I donned my superhero outfit (does that remind you of something?) and to her rescue I bolted. “Freekeh you desire and Freekeh is what you should have Madame", I sang in my baritone voice.
Freekeh is sold in supermarkets or delicatessen stores all over the world. It's a highly nutritious grain made from roasted green wheat. 100% organic, it's filled with minerals and vitamins because the wheat is harvested while still young. It's extremely low in carbohydrates and high in fibers. But the way we cook it will render these health advantages trifling since we’re going to top it with most delicious lamb shanks (Mawzat) or if you’d rather not go all the way with chicken instead. Either choice, Freekeh is delicious and relatively easy to prepare. My advice is to get some plain salted yogurt on the side. Nothing goes more smoothly with Freekeh than a glass of cold Ayran.
1 Chicken cut in half or ½ kg of Lamb Shanks (bones removed)
1 Whole onion + 1 carrot
3 cups of freekeh, rinsed with water
1 tablespoon salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, 5 cinnamon sticks, 5 pods of cardamom (optional)
4 tablespoons butter or shortening
1 finely chopped onion
1 cup of mixed pine nuts and almonds (pistachios and cashews are nice additions but optional)
The pieces of chicken or lamb shanks are heated and turned over in a skillet to dry them off from their own excess juices for a few minutes.
Then in a pot we place the chicken or meat in 6-7 cups of water along with the salt, black pepper, 1 onion, 1 carrot, cinnamon sticks and cardamom. Bring to a boil then reduce heat for 1 ½ hour until chicken or meat is done and tender. Throw away the onion, the cinnamon sticks, the cardamom pods and the carrot.
Separately, soak 3 cups of Freekeh in water for 1 hour. Afterwards the water is drained completely. Butter or shortening along with a finely chopped onion are heated in a pot until the onion is soft then the Freekeh is added and stirred constantly over medium heat for 5 minutes.
The broth from the chicken or meat is added on top (about 5 cups). Bring to boil then cover and reduce heat for 45 minutes.
Again separately, your choice of nuts is sautéed in butter until light brown.
In a large dish the Freekeh is spread first then pieces of chicken (without the bones) or meat are spread over and all are topped by the beautiful looking nuts.
This is one hell of a good recipe and I’m sure you and your 5 companions will enjoy every single bite of it.
Ayran: This is basically diluted plain yogurt. Add water at ratio of 1 to 3 (1 water, 3 yogurt), salt per preference and some mashed garlic 2 to 3 cloves per 1 liter. Splash a few ice cubes and stir until cold. Serve in tall glasses and drink with the meal.
All photos used from the web. The first plate (chicken) has an optional rice layer. We never cook it with rice. The second (lamb shanks) with green peas. This is of course optional and entirely up to you.