I'm afraid I haven't got into quinoa. For a number of reasons. One, it seems tricky to cook, two, it's expensive, and then there are those allegations about its appropriation by middle-class white folk depleting the supplies of a staple food in its less white, less middle-class country of origin. So my experiments with alternatives to rice and couscous and pasta have led me in a different direction. First to barley, which I love in this risotto, and now to the fantastically-named freekah. Who else to turn to for a recipe to showcase the wonder of this relatively little-known ancient grain but Yotam Ottolenghi? He's got a new cookbook just out - Plenty More - but this is from the original Plenty. All the usual Ottolenghi suspects are there - fresh herbs, onions, yoghurt, spices, garlic... coming together in a creation that's cool and sweet, warm and nutty and just wonderful. It's a great side dish to serve with meat (roast lamb would be great), or as part of a vegetarian spread, or just to eat in a bowl on its own, like a risotto or fried rice... but a little left-of-centre. With a name like freekah, how could it be anything but?
Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty
There are two different types of freekah - cracked or wholegrain. If using cracked, the cooking time is shorter, as per the recipe below. If using wholegrain - as I did for this - just cook a little longer til the stock is absorbed. You can find both types in health food stores or good supermarkets or delis.
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 tbsp olive oil plus extra to finish
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
270ml vegetable stock
100g Greek yoghurt
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 garlic clove, crushed
10g parsley, finely chopped, plus extra to garnish
10g mint, finely chopped
10g coriander, finely chopped
2 tbsp pinenuts, toasted and roughly broken
salt and black pepper
Place the onions, butter and olive oil in a large heavy-based pot and sauté on medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 15–20 minutes. or until the onion is soft and brown. Meanwhile, soak the freekeh in cold water for 5 minutes. Drain in a sieve and rinse well under cold running water. Drain well.
Add the freekeh and spices to the onions, followed by the stock and some salt and pepper. Stir well. Bring to the boil, then cover, reduce the heat to a bare minimum and leave to simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and leave it covered for 5 minutes. Finally, remove the lid and leave to pilaf to cool down a little, about another 5 minutes.
While you wait, mix the yoghurt with the lemon juice, garlic and some salt.
Stir the herbs into the warm (not hot) pilaf. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Spoon onto serving dishes and top each portion with a generous dollop of yoghurt. Sprinkle with pine nuts and parsley and finish with a trickle of olive oil.