Freek, frikeh, fereek
Freekeh, or roasted green wheat, is a specialty of many countries in the Middle East and North Africa, including Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, and Egypt. Many traditional dishes of the region combine freekeh with meats or vegetables. The word “freekeh” derives from the Arabic root faraka, which means “to rub,” and alludes to the step in freekeh production in which the grains are vigorously rubbed (threshed) to remove their bran.
Freekeh probably originated around 2,300 BC when the attackers of a Mediterranean village set its green wheat fields on fire before retreating. To salvage what they could, the inhabitants rubbed away the burnt layer and found that the grain had ripened due to the heat and that it had retained a greenish hue. This discovery led to the production of freekeh.
Freekeh is prepared from hard wheat (Triticum durum). The traditional production method is the following: The wheat is harvested at the milky stage, when the leaves are just starting to turn yellow, and is left to dry for approximately a day. Then it is carefully burned in piles on the ground, to remove the chaff and straw. Because the grains are young and still moist, they are fire resistant. After burning, the grain is sun dried and threshed. In order to obtain an even finer product, it can also be cracked, like bulgur. The final product has a greenish color and a distinctive smoky scent and flavor. It must be stored in the dark to retain its flavor. Freekeh is often used in soups and stews, or prepared as a pilaf.
In Lebanon, many households in the wheat producing regions make freekeh, but it is especially typical of southern Lebanon. The village of Chama’, for example, located south of the historic city of Sour (Tyre), is regionally famous for its freekeh. In Egypt, freekeh or fereek is used to stuff pigeons and small chickens that are then fried or roasted, while in the cities of the coast, it accompanies fish.
For thousands of years freekeh was prepared from countless local wheat varieties, many of which have never been catalogued. Today, however, mass-produced freekah made from a handful of modern cultivars threatens both the traditional production method and wheat diversity.