From Beirut to London in 100 Dishes

Freekeh maa Dajaj — Roasted Green Wheat with Chicken and Nuts

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 This is a dish I did not know when I lived in Lebanon, but discovered from Syrian friends here in London.  But its ingredients I know very well from the long weekends and summers I spent in the Bekaa.   I used to ramble and play in the wheat fields with cousins and friends.  Sometimes we would gather seeds from the tall stems of wheat while they were still green.  We would make a little fire and try to roast or barbecue the seeds.  The smell was wonderful as was the taste of the smoked seeds.   We would also filch handfuls of chickpeas and grill them.  When it was harvest time, everyone in the family would come to help from early in the morning.  The yellow wheat would later be turned into burghul and flour. I didn’t realise that the Syrians, Egyptians and Iraqis have been doing for centuries what we did without thinking– gathering the fresh young wheat seeds and roasting them after they’ve been dried in the sun. IMG_0265The seeds are then threshed and dried again — until they have the same consistency and colour.  This is what makes them freekeh.  When they are heaped with chicken or lamb and sweet green peas and nuts, they make up a dish fit for a wedding feast.  It may not have been a recipe I knew when I was growing up, but tasting and touching the freekeh now immediately transports me back to those rich, waving fields of wheat from my childhood — now mostly gone as rampant construction has blighted whole swathes of the Bekaa.

 

Ingredients

For the Chicken

DSC_05822 chicken breasts with skin on

1 large spoon of vegetable oil

4 glasses of water

1/2 tea spoon of salt 

1/2 tea spoon of black pepper

1/2 tea spoon of cinnamon

1 bay leaf

1 cinnamon stick

4 pods of cardamon

1 onion peeled and chopped

1/2 lemon sliced

For the Freekeh

DSC_0566400g of freekeh, washed several times to remove all impurities

3 glasses of chicken stock, use the stock from the cooked chicken breasts

2 large spoons of vegetable oil

1 medium size onion finely chopped

1 tea spoon of butter

1 chicken stock cube

1/2 tea spoon of salt 

1/2 tea spoon of black pepper 

1 tea spoon of cinnamon

1/2 tea spoon of ground cardamon

1 tea spoon 7 spices

1 tea spoon allspice

Garnish

DSC_0584100g pistachios fried

100g almonds fried

100g  pine kernels

100g garden peas

1/2 a pomegranate seeded, optional

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  • In a large non-stick pan, heat the vegetable oil and fry the chicken breasts on both sides for few minutes or until slightly golden
  • Add water, salt, pepper, cinnamon, bay leaves, cinnamon stick, cardamon, onion and the slices of lemon
  • Once the water starts to boil, cover the pot and reduce temperature to minimum and leave to cook for an hour and half
  • When the chicken is ready, remove from the pan and shred the meat and leave aside
  • Then remove the cinnamon stick, bay leaves and the slices of lemon from the stock and leave aside to use with the freekeh.
  • In a large pot, heat the vegetable oil and fry the nuts separately until golden
  • Make sure you start with the pine nuts, then almonds followed by pistachio nuts and leave aside for the garnish
  • Use the same oil to sauté the garden peas, fry for a minute or so
  • Put to one side then fry the onion until golden brown, add the smoked green wheat and fry for few minutes
  • Pour 3 glasses of chicken stock into the pan, then add the butter, chicken stock cube, salt and all the spices
  • Once the water starts to boil, remove from the hob, cover the Freekeh with the lid, and wrap the pot with a thick tea towel
  • Leave aside for at least 2 hours or until you are ready to serve
  • Remove the tea towel, stir well and serve on a big platter
  • Put the shredded chicken on top, and garnish with the mixed nuts, the garden peas and pomegranate seeds
  • Serve hot with a green salad or yogurt and cucumber sauce – Laban Wa Khiar.

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