If you aren’t familiar with freekeh, this Warm Freekeh Salad with Pears, Pine Nuts, and White Balsamic Vinaigrette is the perfect place to start. It’s delicious, filling, and a snap to make. Read on, or jump straight to the recipe HERE.
She’s a very ancient grain… the kind you don’t see on most menus… super freekeh, super freekeh!
If you haven’t heard of freekeh, don’t feel bad — it’s one of those grains that’s been around forever, but is just starting to get a little more recognition here in the US. And by a little more recognition, I mean basically none at all, but I’m going to change that.
This humble little grain is popular in the Middle East, which might sound exotic, but at it’s core freekeh is just good ol’ cracked wheat. The thing that sets it apart is how it’s harvested; early while the wheat is still green, then roasted until the chaff and straw are burned away. This gives it a mild, nutty flavor, with a delicate chewiness once it’s been cooked. Oh, and it also has more fiber and protein than quinoa, so win!
I’ve been on a major farro kick lately (another old-timey grain you don’t see a lot of these days), but for this salad I decided it was time to mix things up a bit. It’s easy to fall into the habit of always reaching for the same foods over and over again, so I’ve been trying to make a real effort to introduce myself to new (er, to me) grains. There are so many I’ve never really gotten acquainted with, and I’m always pleasantly surprised by how tasty and easy they are once I get to know them.
Freekeh is especially easy to prepare — it only takes about twenty minutes to cook, and most of that is down time. My method is to set a timer while I prep the rest of this salad, and when the timer goes off the freekeh is perfectly cooked and I hardly had to lift a finger.
The still-warm freekeh gets mixed into a big bowl with the rest of the ingredients, and the heat seeps into the pears and baby greens just enough to bring out their flavor without turning either to mush. I’d call it a side dish, but the first time I made it The Husband and I both pushed aside our entrees and helped ourselves to seconds instead.
A warning to those with Celiacs: this grain is wheat, and therefore it does contain gluten. If you’d rather not use freekeh, you can swap it in this salad for just about any grain you prefer. Rice, millet, and quinoa are all good gluten-free options, or you can try farro, barley, or wheat berries if you aren’t avoiding gluten. Just be sure to cook according to package directions, as each is a bit different.
Now without further ado… let’s get freekeh with it! (I’m sorry, I promise I’m done now.)
- 1 cup dry freekeh
- 2¼ cup water, or low sodium vegetable stock
- ½ tsp. fine grain sea salt
- 2 big handfuls (maybe 4-5 cups) baby arugula, or mixed baby greens
- 2 ripe but still firm pears, thinly sliced or cut into bite-sized chunks (I used bartlett, but you can use any kind you like, or whatever is ripe)
- ½-3/4 cup toasted pine nuts (sliced almonds or roasted hazelnuts would also be amazing)
- Crumbled gorgonzola cheese, or goat cheese, to taste (totally optional -- leave it off to make this salad vegan)
- 4 TBSP white balsamic vinaiger
- 4 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
- Pinch of salt and pepper, to taste
- Place the freekeh in a large, shallow skillet, and toast over medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring or shaking the pan every now and then. Add the water and salt, and increase heat to high. Once boiling, cover, reduce the heat to low, and set a timer for 20 minutes.
- While the freekeh cooks, toast the pine nuts, slice the pears, and crumble the cheese (if using). Whisk together the balsamic vinaiger and olive oil, and add salt and pepper to taste.
- When the timer goes off, the freekeh should have absorbed all the liquid and become tender, with just a bit of chew. If there's any liquid left in the pan, remove the lid and cook for a minute or two longer until it has evaporated.
- Allow the freekeh to cool for just a few minutes (it should be warm, but not hot), then dump it into a large bowl and add the pears, pine nuts, salad greens, and all of the dressing. Toss to combine, then top with crumbled cheese, or serve with the cheese on the side so people can add it to taste. Serve immediately.
To make this salad vegan, omit the cheese. To make it gluten-free, swap the freekeh for a gluten-free grain such as brown rice, millet, or quinoa. Just be sure to cook according to package directions, as they will each require different cook times and methods.