So many ingredients currently celebrated as superfoods have their origins in the Middle East. And while lentils are familiar to most of us, it’s a pleasure seeing freekeh – or smoked wheat – recently receive the widespread recognition it deserves. This salad illustrates precisely what inspired me to write a second book. I got excited about taking some of our best-known, naturally healthy foods and presenting them in lively new ways.
Freekeh is traditionally prepared as a pilaf of sorts with chicken or meat, and lentils often become mujadara with caramelised onions (or fennel, as my mum preferred) and rice. But these robust, nutty ingredients are just as eager to soak up spring and summer flavours. Their earthiness and smokiness provide gorgeous contrast to handfuls of aromatic herbs, the cool anise bite of fresh fennel, and, of course, liberal amounts of lemon and olive oil. On its own, it’s a vegan salad, or you can make a meal out of it by serving it under a piece of grilled fish.
Makes 6-8 servings
For the salad
225g freekeh, rinsed
1 fennel bulb, cored and diced
3 tbsp chopped fresh dill
3 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
10g chopped fresh coriander
60g deseeded, diced long hot or jalapeño chillies
1 small red onion, diced
50g stoned finely diced black or green olives
1 tbsp ground cumin
For the dressing
6 tbsp olive oil
juice of 1-2 lemons
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp sea salt, or to taste
20-25 cherry tomatoes, halved, for serving
Make the salad: Place the freekeh in a medium saucepan and add water to cover by a few inches. Bring to the boil and cook for 15-20 minutes, until tender. Drain and set aside to cool.
In a large bowl, mix the freekeh with the fennel, dill, parsley, coriander, chilli, onion, olives and cumin.
Make the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk the dressing ingredients until emulsified. Add the dressing to the salad and toss to coat. Taste and add more salt or lemon juice if needed. Garnish with the cherry tomatoes and serve.
Because freekeh is sturdy, this salad can last a few days in the refrigerator. In fact, it often tastes better the second day, once the flavours have had a chance to marry. Feel free to swap the freekeh for small brown lentils for a grain-free variation.
Extracted from Levant by Rawia Bishara (Kyle Books, approx €23). Photography by Con Poulos.