A great Freekeh Recipe needs to have the fragrant aromatics that are synonymous with Middle Eastern and North African cuisine in my view. It’s no surprise then that this delicious Tunisian Pilaf made with freekeh was inspired by a visit to Tunisia many moons ago. As soon as I returned home, I set to work recreating the wonderful smoky and delicate aromas that make this dish so tasty. It’s the combination of nutty freekeh, creamy chickpeas, smoky aromatic harissa and fresh zingy lemon make an authentic tasting Tunisian Freekeh recipe. This dish a tasty vegetarian side dish or healthy weekday dinner that never disappoints.
Tunisian Pilaf with Freekeh Recipe Ingredients
As i say, freekeh is commonly used in Middle Eastern and North African cuisine and is green wheat that is harvested while the grains are still soft and then dried in the sun. It is used in the same way as bulgur wheat and couscous either as a side dish to accompany rich meat dishes such as lamb tagine or as a vegetarian appetizer or main meal in itself.
Freekeh is naturally high in fibre and has a subtle nutty earthy taste and chewy texture. It’s great in salads and can be used to replace bulgur wheat, quinoa or rice. It is cooked in a similar way by rinsing in cold water before adding to boiling water and simmered until it becomes soft and fluffy. You can add seasonings or flavourings to the water such as a stock cube, garlic, herbs or spices whilst it’s being cooked. Most of the cooking liquid will be absorbed by the freekeh during the cooking process whilst the freekeh becomes lightly seasoned from the cooking liquid.
For my pilaf with Freekeh recipe, I use onions, garlic, harissa, cumin, and tomatoes to create a ‘stew-like’ consistency that is often used in North African cuisine. The smoky and sweet harissa infused stew is then used to cook the freekeh and to add flavor to the dish. I also add chickpeas for texture and added protein.
The whole dish receives a powerful hit of freshness by adding fresh parley and lemon just before serving.
Whole grains, beans and pulses make a great alternative to white pasta, white bread and white rice. They are a healthier choice in many ways too. Partly because whole foods have more nutrients for our body to absorb and benefit from and also because our bodies absorb them slower and digest them over a longer period of time.
This makes them a better choice for weight loss as we feel fuller for longer and avoid a slump in energy that is often felt from food containing large amounts of sugar – even natural sugar!
How To Make Tunisian Pilaf with Freekeh Recipe
For the pilaf it’s a good idea to get ahead by chopping all the vegetables before you start and placing the dry freekeh in cold water. The freekeh needs just 5 minutes in the cold water before it needs to be rinsed under the cold tap in a sieve and then set aside to remove the excess water.
Sauté the onions and garlic for 10 minutes in a large frying pan over a low heat until soft and translucent. Then sprinkle in the harissa and cumin and fry for a further 2 minutes stirring regularly to prevent the spices from burning.
Add the chopped tomatoes, lemon zest and season well with salt and freshly milled black pepper. Turn the heat up to medium and allow to cook for 10 minutes until the tomatoes start to thicken and reduce slightly. This may take longer, just be patient.
Once thickened add the freekeh, chickpeas and boiling water to the pan with the tomato mixture and bring to the boil. When the mixture comes to the boil reduce the heat and pop a lid on the pan. Cook until the freekeh is tender and the liquid has been absorbed. When cooked, the freekeh will be soft with a fluffy texture. This should take about 15 minutes.
Once cooked, remove from the heat, squeeze over the juice of half of the lemon, give everything a stir and then place the lid back on.
Just before serving prepare a simple raita by spooning Greek yoghurt into a bowl and adding chopped mint. Stir well until completely combined.
Add chopped cucumber, season with salt and pepper and a good squeeze of the remaining lemon juice and stir to combine.
When you are ready to serve, spoon the freekeh into warmed serving bowls and sprinkle with the chopped parsley.
Serve with the raita and extra lemon wedges.
Tunisian Pilaf with Freekeh Recipe Variations
Other ways to use Freekeh
I use this freekeh recipe to stuff oven roasted vegetables such as squash, courgette and aubegine. I wash and trim the vegetables first (no need to remove the skin), slice them in half, sprinkle with salt and freshly milled black pepper and drizzle with a teaspoon of olive oil. I then roast the prepared vegetables in an oven at 180c until the flesh is soft. The cooking time will vary depending on what vegetables you are using and the best way to check if the vegetables are cooked is to pierce the flesh with a knife.
Once cooked, remove from the oven and let them cool for a few minutes before scooping the flesh out, remembering to leave an outer rim so that the vegetables don’t collapse once the freekeh mixture is spooned in.
The cooked flesh tastes good added to the freekeh once it’s cooked and before it is stuffed inside the vegetables. Just chop the cooked flesh into bit sized chunks and stir into the freekeh. Don’t worry if it breaks up a little. It all adds to the charm in my book.
This makes a delicious veggie starter or main dinner or as an accompaniment to richly spiced lamb dishes.
– Leftovers can be used up the following day as a healthy and filling lunch. Simply place in an air-tight container and keep in the fridge for up to 24 hours.
– Not suitable for home freezing.
Freekah Recipe Ingredient Substitutes
What is a good substitute for freekeh?
If you don’t have freekeh in your store cupboard you could substitute it for the same dry weight as quinoa, rice or bulgur wheat. Prepare these alternatives in the same way you would the freekeh by rinsing in cold water in a sieve. Remove the excess water and then continue to cook in the same way.
How to make a vegan raita?
There are many dairy-free plant based yoghurts widely available in supermarkets and good delis these days. Cashew nut is my particular favourite as it lends itself to the other flavours in this freekeh dish.
To make this Pilaf with freekeh dairy free and plant based simply substitute the Greek yoghurt in the raita for the same quantity of cashew yoghurt or use your favourite plant-based yoghurt in the same quantity.
Tunisian Pilaf with Freekeh Recipe
For the Tunisian Pilaf:
- 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 onion finely diced
- 2 cloves of garlic finely chopped
- 2 tsp Harissa paste
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 250 g tomatoes peeled and diced
- 50 g green olives destoned and sliced
- 150 g cracked freekeh
- 1 400g tin of chickpeas drained and rinsed
- 150 ml boiling water
- Juice and rind of 1 lemon
- 25 g parsley leaves finely chopped, to serve
For the raita:
- 100 ml natural Greek yogurt
- 2 tbsp finely chopped mint
- 1/4 cucumber peeled and diced
- Salt and black pepper
- A squeeze of lemon juice
- For the pilaf, heat the oil in a large frying pan over a low heat. Add the onions and garlic and sauté for 10 minutes until soft and translucent.
- Sprinkle in the harissa and cumin and fry for a further 2 minutes stirring regularly to prevent the spices from burning.
- Add the chopped tomatoes, lemon zest and season well with salt and freshly milled black pepper. Turn the heat up to medium and cook for 10 minutes until the tomatoes start to thicken.
- Meanwhile, soak the freekeh in cold water for 5 minutes then rinse under the cold tap in a sieve.
- Allow some of the excess water to drain and then add to the pan with the tomato mixture.
- Now add the chickpeas and boiling water and bring the pan to the boil. Once the mixture comes to the boil reduce the heat and pop a lid on the pan. Cook until the freekeh is tender and the liquid has been absorbed. This should take about 15 minutes.
- As soon as the freekeh is cooked remove from the heat, squeeze over the juice of half of the lemon, give everything a stir and then place the lid back on.
- Just before serving prepare the raita by spooning the Greek yoghurt into a bowl and adding the chopped mint. Stir well until completely combined.
- Add the chopped cucumber, season with salt and pepper and a good squeeze of the remaining lemon juice. Stir to combine.
- When you are ready to serve, spoon the freekeh into warmed serving bowls and sprinkle with the chopped parsley.
- Serve with the raita and extra lemon wedges.