My new love affair with freekeh led me to cook with it again this evening. I was completely blown away by its fantastic flavour when I cooked it with courgettes and herbs last week and that in turn led me to go and buy some more!
While freekeh can be an alternative for rice, bulgur and couscous in dishes, I don’t imagine I’ll completely give up the other grains, certainly not the rice. When I made a risotto last night with some leftover chicken, I used some good arborio rice to get that lovely creamy effect that you look for in a risotto. But when it comes to bulgur or couscous … well freekeh is way ahead in terms of flavour.
I’d bought quite a small butternut squash – only just over 500g in size – at the weekend and thought that would be ideal with the freekeh. Butternut squash is one of my favourite things and I’ll often use it in risotto, roast it to serve with a tahini dressing, make a dip with it or soup. For years a family favourite soup has been roasted butternut squash with red onions and tomato. I thought it would work well to take the same ingredients as the soup but instead of adding water or stock at the end to make soup, add the roasted vegetables to some freekeh, and then crumble in some feta cheese.
I think you have to love butternut squash to go through the effort of peeling them! I’m very practised at the art now and use a very sharp and large chef’s knife to slice down, but it takes care and patience to do it well and not lose too much of the gorgeous flesh with the skin. I cut the squash into fairly small pieces, chopped 4 medium-sized tomatoes into quarters and roughly chopped 1 medium red onion. I put the vegetables in an oven-proof dish, scattered over about a teaspoon of dried thyme and seasoned well with salt and pepper. Then I drizzled over a good amount of extra virgin olive oil.
I used my hands to turn it all round so that the vegetables mixed well together and were coated in the oil. It’s so much easier using hands than trying to do it with a spoon. I use my hands now to mix a dressed salad – Jamie Oliver style – and it works well; you can be gentle but thorough and there’s something nice about being so in touch with the food. I cooked the vegetables in a 200C/180 Fan oven for about 45 minutes, turning quite frequently so the edges didn’t burn.
Cooking time will depend to some extent on the size of your squash pieces but cook until they’re just tender. Meanwile prepare the freekeh.
I used 100g which wasn’t quite a cup. I washed it a couple of times in water, drained and then added to a saucepan with twice the volume of water – just as I’d cook rice – and some salt. I brought it to the boil and turned down to a simmer and cooked with the lid on until the water was absorbed and the freekeh tender. I tipped the cooked freekeh into the vegetables and carefully mixed together.
Then I crumbled over some feta (120g) and popped the dish back into the oven for 10 minutes for the cheese to warm through and melt slightly.
I removed it from the oven and gently very slightly mixed the cheese into the freekeh and vegetables. Then I drizzled over a little more olive oil and scattered over some freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley and mint.
I served it as a main dish with a side green salad.
It was such a good meal. Wonderfully healthy, of course, but the main thing was its gorgeous flavour. I just love the deep earthy, slightly smoky flavour of the freekeh that matched the sweet earthiness of the squash so well; the salty feta cut perfectly through the sweetness, the herbs added a fresh note. The love affair continues. Meanwhile, this made plenty as a main dish for two so I have seconds for tomorrow!