Filed under: Grain
For those of you that don’t spend countless hours scouring food and nutrition blogs, there’s a lot of hype out there about freekeh, an ancient technique for preparing grain that has recently re-emerged in popularity. Its been called “the next quinoa” for its high protein, vitamin, and mineral content. Northern Spy Food Co., a restaurant in the East Village, has a super creamy freekeh risotto, its a velvety daydream with more of a chewy bite than Arborio rice. Sorry for two posts in a row about grains, but I couldn’t help myself, too excited about gut microbiota- but more about that later.
Its charred- that’s pretty badass. Freekeh is harvested early, when the grains, usually durum, are still young and green. Next, the grains, still covered by their chaff (kinda like a husk), are laid out to sunbathe. They are then roasted- either over an open fire or in an oven, to burn off the chaff and straw. After being laid out once again to dry, the grains are rubbed together to remove any remaining chaff.
Among all of the freekeh buzz I have seen numerous claims that freekeh is prebiotic, and that really grabbed my attention. The nutrient and harvesting stuff is cool, but microbiota-gut-food interactions, oooh yeah!
In your gut is an entire ecosystem of diverse bacteria busy at work breaking down different foods through fermentation, interacting with each other and your body. Gut bacteria can inhibit harmful bacterial growth, support immune functions, reduce of gas distention problems, improve digestion and absorption of essential nutrients and synthesize vitamins. Go ahead, thank your gut bacteria.
Prebiotics are nondigestible ingredients in food that selectively promote beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. Oligofructose and inulin are common prebiotics found in garlic, artichoke, asparagus, and other foods. When ingested, they are fermented (broken down) by bifidobacteria, one of a few beneficial bacteria that thrive on these prebiotics and consequently multiply. An increased population of this beneficial bacteria is associated with decreased risk of colon cancer, diabetes, fat development and obesity inflammation. The beneficial bacteria produce short chain fatty acids and other metabolites. These short chain fatty acids interact many types of cells to control energy metabolism and immunity.
Before I knew all these awesome facts about freekeh I saw it at the farmer’s market. I discovered that its satisfying bite and earthy toastyness pairs really well with a creamy roasted squash and other root vegetables. I also added maitake mushrooms and a few spices to heighten freekeh’s foresty flavors. I could also imagine the dish topped with a grassy flavor like cilantro.
Freekeh with Roasted Root Vegetables
1 small butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 1-inch cubes
3 medium carrots, cubed
2 medium parsnips, cubed
2 turnips, peeled and cubed (rutabaga might also be good)
4 tbsp olive oil
1 pinch salt
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 tsp oregano seeds
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp corriander
1 cup vegetable/chicken broth
1 cup water
1 cup freekeh
1/4 lb maitake or other wild mushroom, torn into 2 inch pieces
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Peel and chop the squash, carrots, parsnips, and turnips, and combine and toss with 2 tbsp olive oil and a pinch of salt. Spread these veggies out on a baking sheet and roast for about 40 minutes, stirring halfway through.
Meanwhile, add 2 tbsp olive oil to a large saucepan on medium heat. Add in the chopped onion, sautee till the onion begins to become translucent, add the garlic, oregano seeds, cumin, corriander, freekeh, broth, and water. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, then turn the heat down to low and cover, 35 mins. Uncover, stir in the mushrooms and taste the freekeh. Cook, uncovered 5 minutes more or until freekeh is no longer crunchy and mushrooms are done.
Combine the roasted vegetables and freekeh mixture in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm.