This freekeh recipe with chicken is definitely a family favorite. It's packed with the flavors of warm, comforting spices, and has always been my ultimate childhood comfort meal. If you've never tried freekeh, it's actually super easy to make, with a similar cooking process to white rice, and has SO many health benefits!! I've always been intimidated by cooking freekeh, but my recipe will break it down for you step by step so you can make the perfect freekeh with chicken.
We usually make some salad to go along with this dish, like this Greek Mediterranean quinoa salad with feta, killer fatoush salad with pita chips, and my favorite tabouli with quinoa. My dad's favorite freekeh side is cucumbers in yogurt, or khyar b laban, which is the perfect cold, refreshing addition to the dish. He just dollops it right on top.
What is Freekeh?
Freekeh, also called freek or fareek, is basically wheat that's just harvested prematurely while it's green. It's then roasted and rubbed, which is what gives it its earthy flavor. You'll notice its distinct flavor instantly, which is exactly why it's one of my favorite foods EVER.
As for the texture, you'll notice freekeh is a little chewy, and you can feel each individual grain with every bite. It's definitely super unique. In most Middle Eastern cuisines, it's usually served either as a soup or with chicken or meat just like this recipe.
Ingredients You'll Need
- Chicken: If you're planning on making this freekeh with chicken, I suggest using bone-in pieces. Since you'll be boiling the chicken and using the stock to cook the freekeh, you'll need the bones to give you the maximum flavor (you're going to be shredding the chicken anyways). I've made this recipe with boneless, skinless chicken breasts and it still works perfectly, so it's really up to what you have at home.
- Freekeh: There are two types of freekeh: whole and cracked. For this recipe, you'll need whole freekeh, which is what's most common in Arab households. Don't forget to rinse it really well under warm water.
- Peas: As a kid, I always picked out all the peas from my freekeh. Now, I pile them up! Frozen peas are the easiest to use because you just chuck them in during the last two minutes of cooking.
- Nuts: This is the most important part, in my opinion. You'll need either raw pine nuts, cashews, or almonds (or a mix of them all), which you'll lightly fry in ghee and sprinkle on top of the freekeh. They add a beautiful crunch.
- Onion: Any kind of onion will do.
- Garlic: You'll need about four cloves of garlic, which you'll also add to the broth.
- Ghee: This recipe only needs a little bit of ghee to fry the nuts and freekeh in. Olive oil is an appropriate substitute, but honestly, the ghee is what really deepens the flavor of the freekeh.
- Olive oil: I like to use olive oil to sear the chicken in before it boils. You can use any oil, but good quality olive oil always adds to a dish.
- Spices: The mix of spices I like to use for this recipe is what makes this whole dish. I like to mix whole and ground spices to get the most flavor. The whole spices are cardamom, cloves, bay leaves, black peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, and caraway. The ground spices are 7 spices, cumin, dried coriander, white pepper, and nutmeg. Salt and black pepper to taste, of course.
Is Freekeh Gluten-Free?
Since freekeh is made of wheat, it is not gluten-free. Which means freekeh is not safe for people with gluten allergies or sensitivities, or people with celiac disease.
How to Cook Freekeh
I usually don't measure the liquid to freekeh ratio. The way I do it is to completely cover the freekeh in liquid and boil it covered for around 35-40 minutes. If the liquid is absorbed and the freekeh isn't cooked through yet, then I'll just add a little more and cook until it's light and fluffy.
The secret is also in frying the freekeh before boiling it.
Here Are Some Tips:
- Sear the chicken before boiling it. This gives it a beautiful color and brings out all the juices that will flavor your chicken broth.
- Add around ¼ cup of chicken broth to the freekeh after it's finished cooking. My family doesn't prefer it dry, so we always add even more broth after it's done to keep it more moist and hearty.
- When you fry the freekeh in ghee, add the spices in as well in order to maximize their flavor.
- Fry the nuts last and pour them over the dish with the melted ghee. The nuts will be super crunchy, and the sizzling sound they make when they hit the freekeh is SO satisfying.