Credit: Photography: Earl Carter

Super freekeh

This chopped broccoli and freekah salad is a simple and honest dish we serve at the pub. The salad’s uncomplicated simplicity is its attraction. It is healthy and has a wonderful texture. It successfully accompanies most dishes on the menu and is delicious. It is also the most popular dish we serve in the pub. I always thought steak and chips would trump all others on the menu, or at least the roast chicken off the rotisserie.

It is refreshing to be wrong for all the right reasons. Cooking and running restaurants is a game of expectation and speculation. Trying to anticipate and guess what people want to eat – before they even know – is our challenge. Paying attention to the seasons helps, as does staying abreast of trends and what is happening in the food world, but that sometimes confuses things. There is no real guidebook to writing menus and running restaurants; intuition, experience and the ability to listen to what people need are my only real direction. For this reason, it comes as no surprise that our guests to some extent dictate what stays and goes.

Freekeh is simply roasted young green wheat. It’s different to cracked wheat or burghul, which is a mature wheat grain that has been dried and cracked.

Historically, the green wheat stalks were roasted over embers in the field before the cool ears were shucked and the grains removed. The process of roasting the green wheat imparts a slightly smoky flavour while the green wheat has an inherent nutty flavour. Now freekeh is processed in a controlled environment, after the roasting process the grains are either cracked or left whole.

The cracked freekeh can be cooked as a pilaf. In a saucepan, combine one cup of freekeh with five cups of liquid, cover and simmer gently on the stove for half an hour. I have also used cracked freekeh as a replacement for conventional cracked wheat when making tabouli.

Besides the flavour, one of the advantages of harvesting the wheat while it’s young is its higher level of protein, vitamins and minerals compared with mature wheat.

One salad we have had on the menu since day one at Cumulus Inc is made from freekeh and burghul. When we first decided to put this on the menu, six years ago, supply of freekeh was scarce. Cracked wheat was readily available at the time so we decide to blend the two to extend the limited supply. What resulted was an unconventional recipe that took advantage of the unique and appealing texture of the blended grains.

I often make a simple chicken soup that includes freekeh. Simply simmer a dismembered large chicken for an hour with a handful of whole freekeh along with shredded white vegetables such as leek, onion and cabbage. Finish it with salt, parsley and plenty of black pepper.


Chopped broccoli and freekeh salad

Serves 8

This grain salad seems to work well as an accompaniment to many things. I really like it with roast chicken or a whole baked fish, or even on its own along with various vegetable plates. Be sure to use wholegrain freekeh for this recipe, the cracked variety just doesn’t carry the same texture.

For the lemon dressing
– 2 tbsp lemon juice
– 1 tbsp chardonnay vinegar
– 140ml pure or mild olive oil
– pinch of salt

– 1 cup wholegrain freekeh
– 2 heads of broccoli, cut into florets, reserving the broccoli stem
– ½ cup skin-on organic almonds, roasted and roughly chopped
– 1 cup of loosely packed mint leaves, finely chopped
– 1 cup of loosely packed parsley leaves, finely chopped
– 1 bunch of spring onions, dark green tops removed, thinly sliced
– pinch of dried chilli
– salt
– 1 tbsp finely chopped preserved lemon

To make the salad dressing, simply mix the lemon juice, chardonnay vinegar, olive oil and salt. Set aside until ready to use.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to the boil. Peel and dice the broccoli stem into half-centimetre pieces. Blanch the broccoli florets for one minute only. Using a small sieve, remove the broccoli and leave it to cool on a platter. Now blanch the diced broccoli stem for about three minutes or until tender. Bring the same pot of water back to the simmer, add the freekeh and continue to boil for 20-30 minutes or until the freekeh is al dente. Drain and allow to cool on a large, flat tray.

Drain the broccoli thoroughly on paper towel, then finely chop.
When you wish to serve the salad, toss all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Dress with only half the salad dressing and taste. You will need to add salt, a little more dressing and possibly some more dried chilli to suit your taste.

Any remaining salad dressing can be used on another salad and will last a few days in the fridge.

Wine pairing:
Mac Forbes EB07 Whole Bunch riesling, 2013, Strathbogie Ranges, Victoria ($35) – Campbell Burton, sommelier, Builders Arms Hotel

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 5, 2014 as "Super freekeh". Subscribe here.

Andrew McConnell
is the executive chef and co-owner of Cutler & Co and Cumulus Inc.