By: Danya Weiner
When I was still pregnant I heard a rumor at my son’s preschool that one of the assistants at my was quitting and was looking to become a nanny. Being that I always really liked her, I immediately called her in hopes I was the first to “catch” her. Today, Hisin is my son’s nanny (together with another mini-friend, Ella). Not a day goes by that I am not thankful that she is in my life, she has the biggest heart I have ever come across. Beyond the limitless love she gives to my three sons, she spoils Oded and I with her amazing cooking straight from the authentic Arab cuisine. She has brought us fresh zaa’tar (hyssop) homemade by her sister, spicy pickled olives and many other little surprises which never fail to excite me. At least once a week I come home to find pots and pans filled with delicious stews alongside a perfectly chopped vegetable salad.
Last Sunday I came home after a long (sweet) photo shoot, and I was in need of something savory. To my delight, there stood a large pot on the stove filled with warm mejadra (a rice and lentil sort of pilaf). Hisin usually makes mejadra (Middle Eastern soul food according to Yotam Ottolonghi) the classic way, using green lentils with burgul or rice, but since I always like to put a twist on things I asked her to make it with freekeh (cracked roasted wheat). My request sounded quite odd to her, she, not understanding why change a good thing. But she agreed, and out came the most delicious mejadra I had ever tasted, with a smoky aroma and deep flavor.
I highly recommend serving this dish with a side of goat’s milk or sheep’s milk yogurt, you can substitute for cow’s milk yogurt if unavailable. The fried onions add flavor depth to this dish, while the cooked beets add a nice fresh bite.
Freekeh is considered a super food and is comparable to other healthy grains such as quinoa and faro. It is produced and sold commercially whole or cracked. If you can’t find it, then simply substitute with the same amount of rice or bulgur..
Ingredients for 4 servings:
1 cup freekeh
2 large onions
1 cup black lentils
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon baharat (optional)
Salt and fresh ground pepper
1 onion, sliced and pan-fried with olive oil until golden
½ cup Goat milk or sheep’s milk yogurt
1 cup cooked beets, cubed
- Soak freekeh in a large bowl filled with cold water for 2-3 hours, and then strain.
- In a large pot filling with boiling water, add half an onion (not chopped) and lentils and cook for 15 minutes, until “al dente”. Strain and discard the onion half.
- Finely chop the remaining onion (1½). In a large pan, heat the olive oil and then add the chopped onion. Cook for about 7 minutes on medium heat until golden. Add the cumin and baharat (if using), salt and pepper and mix to combine. Add the freekeh to the pan and stir until combined.
- Place the freekeh mixture in a large pot, add the cooked lentils and 1¼ cups of boiling water. Cover and cook on low heat for 15 minutes.
- Serve with fried onion, yogurt and beets.