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Jul

Only two weeks in London and already my travels seem very far away, with the only vivid memory being a big hole in my leg where I banged my shin against one of those posts designed not only to stop cars from parking, but also to makeย  pedestrians trip over! Still, I had many wonderful and memorable moments during my months in the Middle East including one on the way to Apamea, in Syria when I spotted a group of farmers burning frikeh (green wheat).

frikeh-just burned copy

The last time I had seen frikeh being burned in the fields was back in 1982 in Qalb Lozeh, one of the dead Byzantine cities near Aleppo. The only difference between then and now, was the setting: totally magical and ancient in Qalb Lozeh, and rather modern and charmless in Qal’at al Mudiq where we had stopped. The building where the farmers lived was modern and unfinished like many of the buildings in the Syrian countryside, and their farm equipment was scattered everywhere, bulky and rusty. The farmers were great though, dressed in a funny mix of traditional garb with modern accessories like the women’s hats, and very jolly and welcoming.

They had divided the green wheat into piles on the ground and had set a metal trestle table with a top like a grill over a large plastic sheet. They then scooped each pile of wheat onto the grille and set fire to it. As the wheat burned, the ears of wheatย  fell through the grill onto the sheet. The farmers then pushed the table to the side and started to fork the burned frikeh quite high up in the air, letting it fall back and in the process letting the burned chaff blow away. They then gathered the burned frikeh into baskets and again poured it from high up onto another plastic sheet, I guess to get rid of more chaff.

frikeh-pile copy

frikeh-burning-better copy

frikeh-end of burning 2 copy

frikeh-fluffing-fred copy

frikeh-picking up burned wheat copy

frikeh-putting on sheet copy

And here is what fresh frikeh looks like close up. It is actually delicious eaten still tender with the lovely smoky flavour even more pronounced and I could imagine making a crunchy salad with it freshly picked and just burned.

frikeh-close up copy

But no one uses it at this stage. They dry the hulled grain then crack it and store it for the year. In the south of Lebanon they leave the grain whole and if I am not mistaken, they don’t pick it as green. The Turkish firik seems to be a little less smoky and I think they don’t burn it in Egypt — there they use frikah to stuff pigeons, one of their rare delicacies. In Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey, they cook frikeh as they would cook rice or burghul, using the broth from the boiled meat or chicken whcih is served with it. Some add a little rice to the frikeh to make it lighter. I prefer to cook it on its own as I love its distinctive smoky flavour, although I also like the way it is served in Bazar el-Sharq, one of my favourite restaurants in Aleppo, shaped in a timbale with half frikeh, half rice and meat and chicken on top, with a garnish of toasted nuts. Here is a beautiful picture of the dish which Ben Stechschulte took.

frikeh-ben

And here is a recipe for an Algerian Chorba Frik from La Cuisine Marocaine, Plus… de Latifa Benani-Smires. I haven’t tested it but I have cooked often from her other book and her recipes are great.

350 g lamb from the neck or shoulder, diced into small cubes

1 cup chickpeas, soaked overnight with a little bicarbonate of soda

2 medium onions, grated

2 cloves garlic, crushed

pinch saffron

1 tsp finely ground black pepper

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 small bunch coriander, most of the stalks discarded, very finely chopped

2 tbsp tomato paste

1 cup frikeh

sea salt

Put the meat, chickpeas, onion and garlic in a pot.ย  Add the saffron, pepper and oil and 2 litres water. Place over medium high heat and bring to the boil. Cover and let bubble gently for an hour or until the meat and chickpeas are done.

Add the cinnamon, coriander andย  tomato paste and bring back to the boil. Add the frikeh and salt to taste and let bubble for another 30 minutes, or until the frikeh is done. You need to check on the water to make sure the soup is not becoming too thick. It should not be too runny either. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Serve very hot.


There is 42 comments on this post


  • Fascinating. I’ve never seen frikeh being harvested.


  • it is. i am going back next year and spending time with this family to watch the process from beginning to end. and i seem to remember them saying it’s all for their own consumption.

  • Nancy Harmon Jenkins
    July 1, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    Anissa, this is just terrific. I’ve never seen frikeh being harvested either, always suspected it might be a process for rescuing green wheat whose harvest was otherwise threatened–and then it became a desirable process in its own right. I do hope you’ll go back (and I’ll come too) to document the whole thing from start to finish, maybe get some folklore to go along with it.
    nancy


  • i will definitely be going back. would be great if you came too. any plans for london?


  • Wow – beautiful process and great write-up. Alissa, someone mentioned a sour (with lemon) greens soup with firik. Have you eaten anything like that? Greens are among my favorite foods, I love sour, and I’m carrying some firik home from Turkey. Would love to document this process as a companion to Philippine duman photo essay!


  • glad you enjoyed the post robyn. the only sour soup with greens i know is ‘adass bil-hamud. i have a recipe for it in my lebanese cookbook. i don’t know of one with frikeh but will ask and will let you know. actually, there is lemon juice in harira but not that much. if you like sour, try and see if you can buy good verjuice (hosrum in arabic; not sure what it is in turkish) before you leave istanbul. I like the kind of sour taste it gives and often use it instead of lemon juice in my salad dressings. none of the western commercial brands i have tried are as sour as the one i buy in beirut. btw, do you drink the pickles juice? i can’t.


  • Farik one of my favorite grain to cook with. I make a pilaf with it and add garbanzo beans and lamb chunks with it and it tastes amazing. Please keep me posted on your next trip at that part of the world. We had such a fantastic time in Syria and would love to do it again.


  • will do. and you’re right. frikeh is amazing, and very healthy. perhaps i’ll make some for lunch tomorrow. we did have a great time in syria. look forward to seeing you again. x


  • Oh my! C’est toute mon enfance qui defile-la avec ton post ces belles photos! Merci merci Anissa!


  • de rien lila. je suis contente de t’avoir rappele ton enfance.


  • superbe! i buy it when i find it at teheran market on wilshire and love eating it.
    how is your kamakh doing? mine resisted the move, the car drive and bumps and is starting to smell a little cheesy…


  • yes, frikeh is great. i am starting my kamakh this weekend. i didn’t want to use my good salt and haven’t yet bought regular salt. how big is your batch. am planning to start with 200 g youghurt, 200 g salt and 1 litre milk. i wonder if it is too little.


  • As Charles says, fascinating. And no, I’m fairyl sure it is not burned in the harvesting process in Egypt.


  • glad you’re confirming this diana because i don’t remember it having a smoky flavour. love the stuffed pigeons. i had a great recipe with mastic and cardamom in the sauce which i created from two different recipes but i never transcribed it. too bad.


  • 1 cup yogurt, 1 cup salt and 5 milk. looks great. leaving for lebanon and the middle east in a few hours, hope it does not die during my trip. asked a friend to take care of it.


  • ok. will start mine tomorrow. safe travels and give me news from out there. xx


  • warm summer and farniente in Lebanon. going to souk al-tayyeb saturday morning. will take pictures and post them. getting all sorts of debs from a great shop near M’ameltein. fabulous herbs and products, even home made ice creams… mmm.


  • mmm… indeed. am about to start my rooftop cheese. look forward to the pics.


  • Dear Anissa
    Your post is wonderful. I live in Portland, Oregon, U.S.A. Yesterday, I helped with the Frikeh harvest at Ayers Creek Farm. We harvested it in a similar technique to what you describe. Cutting, burning, and then, however, through a Cicorea thresher. The farmer uses this machine for chick peas, barleys, wheats, and dry beans too. We have been eating the very fresh (and highly perishable) undried frikeh for salad, stews, and porridge in the last 24 hours. Most of it will be air dried for storage.


  • how interesting, and how lucky to have eaten the fresh frikeh. it is so good. i only had a few grains but will have a lot more next year. so glad you enjoyed the post. must come to the farm when i am next on the west coast.


  • please do and stay in touch.


  • This is all new to me ! Is green wheat a different variety of wheat grown for this or is it wheat that has become green for some reason during its growing period…. What an interesting post, thank you ๐Ÿ™‚


  • it’s green because it is picked unripe, at a stage when the colour is still green, and it’s durum wheat.


  • A belated reply: yes I drink the pickle juice, every last drop — esp. if it’s ‘aci’! But from proper pickle shops, not the ones at Eminonu pier … too acidic.


  • gosh, you are brave. will have to try again when i am there next, at the lovely place in cihangir which was closed when i was there.


  • I am glad I discovered your blog. So many interesting and unusual subjects. I use freek for bread baking. The nice smoky flavour adds something special to the bread.


  • how interesting. so glad you are enjoying my blog.


  • Hi Anissa,

    Wow, it’s wonderful to see how this process actually happens. I ate some mixed with bulgur on my last trip to Turkey. It was good but not smoky tasting and the other people at my table didn’t notice it.


  • yes, not all frikeh is as smoky as it should be. the syrian one for sure and the jordanian as well although often they tend to grind it a little too fine there. in lebanon, it depends who you go to. some don’t burn it at all and don’t grind it while others do. glad you enjoyed the post faye ๐Ÿ™‚


  • Thanks, Anissa, I enjoyed it very much. I hadn’t cooked frikeh for a while and I came across your post when I was comparing proportions of liquid to grain. They seem to vary enormously, even when it’s not a question of making soup, from less liquid than frikeh to three times as much liquid. I suppose some batches absorb more liquid than others. In the past I cooked it like bulgur pilaf, with twice as much liquid as grain, though the frikeh took somewhat longer to cook.

    Frikeh is made in Israel too and some is more smokey than others. A blogger friend of mine wrote that the first time she cooked it, her husband thought she had burnt the food!


  • don’t you have my lebanese cuisine? i don’t think it is possible to cook frikeh with less water than grain. it just wouldn’t work. and it’s true that it takes longer to cook than burghul. the wheat for burghul is parboiled and dried before it is ground whereas frikeh is not. it is v tender when it is harvested and I have tasted it when i took the pics of the farmers. it’s delicious and it would make an interesting base for salads but it doesn’t stay fresh tasting and soft for very long. too bad.


  • Anissa, These pictures are fascinating, thank yo! I would like to make my frikeh without meat and as a very highly flavored cold salad like tabbouleh. Any ideas for seasoning?


  • Allspice, cinnamon, Aleppo pepper, pomegranate syrup, so many possibilities ๐Ÿ™‚


  • I just ate Egyptian stuffed pigeons recently in Dubai, though they were stuffed with short-grained rice rather than frikeh. I’d heard of the frikeh stuffing, but didn’t know what it was till I read your post…perfectly timed, and super informative as always, thank you Anissa!


  • you are welcome arva. i had a marvelous recipe for the pigeons which had mastic and cardamom in the sauce but i never transcribed it properly and ii can’t find the sheet of paper i wrote it on. one day i will then i’ll make them again. i used to eat them on the street in cairo. for some reaon i wasn’t scared of the dirt then but i would be now ๐Ÿ™‚


  • Fascinating. Thank you.


  • Hello Anissa, A most interesting post, it sounds delicious. Thank you.


  • glad you enjoyed it david. frikeh is totally delicious. i wonder if you could make bread with it if you grind it. would have a wonderful smoky taste ๐Ÿ™‚


  • I have some frikeh grains, which I use in stews, but I’ll try and grind some and make bread. The frikeh I have is made from Spelt, so should be interesting …. if it works!


  • great. look forward to reading about how it works out ๐Ÿ™‚

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