Freekeh (frikeh) is my number one grain and preferred starch to use. I find it so versatile to cook with and I cherish the unique, nutty undertone and smoky aroma it carries. This ancient grain is typical to the cuisine of the Middle East. Growing up I enjoyed it the traditional way in the quintessential freekeh ma’ djej/ Lahm or freekeh with chicken and/or meat. However, freekeh can be used in risottos, salads (this salad was a big hit when I served it at Tawlet), stews, cakes, puddings and makes great breakfast porridge. In the below mentioned recipe, it shines as a stuffing. If you have been looking for a stuffing that is unique, wholesome and packed with exotic flavors then you must try this. I used it for stuffing a lamb shoulder, although it will work just as well with turkey, chicken or even as a side with ham, as a vegetarian option and so on. The recipe is a twist on the traditional Lebanese stuffing used at Christmas for filling a chicken, turkey or lamb meat. Of course, in place of rice I have used freekeh and I also substituted chickpeas for minced meat. I find this stuffing a perfect accompaniment to lamb and you’ll experience a wondrous explosion of flavors when the whole dish is finished off with minted yogurt dressing and fresh pomegranate arils. Great sides would be roasted beetroot and sweet potatoes.
If you’re into knowing more information regarding the health benefits, then you’ll be happy to hear that freekeh has been coined as the next super-food. Frankly, if you asked me to judge based on flavor alone as a deciding factor, freekeh would out win quinoa hands down. What makes freekeh so unique is that the wheat is harvested young when it is still full of moisture; it is then sun-dried before being burned or roasted over an open fire which is why it has the smoky aroma. Once cool it is then rubbed to separate it from the chaff, hence its name is derived from the Arabic root “Al Fark” or to rub. The Australian based company, Green Wheat Freekeh, is on a campaign to promote the benefits of consuming this grain. Research carried out by the above mentioned company indicates that freekeh retains more protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals compared to traditionally processed wheat as well as four times the fiber content of brown rice. The grain is also rich in prebiotic properties which fuel the growth of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract. Although not yet proven, some believe it to be suitable for gluten-free diets as the gluten is denatured due to the high temperature burning process.
- Lamb shoulder, boned (you could also use neck and breast but ask your butcher to remove the bones to facilitate stuffing)
- 1 liter lamb stock
- 400g freekeh, washed, stones removed and soaked for one hour (see above)
- 240g chickpeas, cooked but not very soft
- 150g pine nuts, toasted
- 150g almond halves, toasted
- 2 teaspoons of seven spice mixture
- 1 teaspoon of allspice
- 1 teaspoon of ground cardamom
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
- about 50g of butter
- salt and pepper to taste
- Kitchen string- about 24 inches
- 450g Greek yoghurt
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon of dried mint
- Arils of one pomegranate
- For the stock: the butcher will usually give you the bones rather than throw them away. These are great to use in stews and for making a broth as we will require for this recipe. If you love bone marrow as much as I do, then make sure not to let that go to waste after the bones have been boiled. To make the stock, cover the bones with about 1.5 liters of water, add some aromatics like onion, carrot, bay leaf as well as a couple of cloves and a pinch of allspice, salt and pepper and then bring to a boil. Skim off any froth that appears on the top, reduce heat and let simmer for about 45 minutes. set aside, till ready for use.
- In a bowl mix the yoghurt, minced garlic, dried mint, 2-3 tablespoons of water and salt. Keep refrigerated till ready for use.
- Preparing the stock as indicated above or alternately you can use store-bought.
- While the stock boils begin preparing the stuffing. In a deep chef pan, melt about 20g of the butter and then saute the finely chopped onions on medium to low heat till they are soft and translucent or about 3-5 minutes. Add the minced garlic and saute for a further minute before adding the chickpeas, freekeh, toasted nuts, spices and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well and set aside.
- Lay the shoulder skin side down, sprinkle with a little salt and then spread the freekeh stuffing mixture evenly across the surface. Overlap the two end-sides and tie with some kitchen string. This will allow you to create a secure pocket to continue filling. Once a pocket is created add more filling and tie as you go along making sure the sides overlap as you tie them together. Be sure to leave space in the end, so that the two sides can overlap and enclose the stuffing. Also, be sure not to over-stuff as the freekeh will expand with cooking. You will want to use about ⅓ of the freekeh stuffing, the rest will be served with the dish.
- Over medium flame, melt the rest of the butter in a large, deep casserole that will hold the stuffed lamb shoulder and ideally is suitable for the oven too. Gently transfer the stuffed shoulder to the casserole and let it brown 3-4 minutes on each side. Next add about 800 ml of the warm stock to the casserole, cover and bring to a boil. Skim off any froth and then reduce to a low heat and let cook for about one and half hours.
- Once the lamb has cooked, remove enough of the stock to cover the reserved freekeh stuffing, cover and cook the freekeh over medium flame for about 20 minutes or till soft.
- While the freekeh cooks, place the lamb shoulder in a very hot oven and cook uncovered for 10-15 minutes or till desired browning is achieved. Remove and let it sit for about 5 minutes before carving.
- Serve with the reserved freekeh stuffing, minted yoghurt dressing and pomegranate arils