Yesterday I drove home from work. With the window down. To those who live in a warmer clime, this may seem nothing, but to anyone in the northern half of the U.S. this winter, you know it is a big deal. The sensation of a warm sun and gentle air felt like a welcome madness. This morning I noticed fresh green grass beginning to force its way out of the ground, brazenly challenging Nature to snow on it. And Nature will likely oblige.
But you see, the sun has warmed. The air is gentler. Hope springs eternal. Deep within my stocking feet, my toes are involuntarily flexing, imagining the day when they can be freed to the open air and sink deeply into fresh green grass. This hope runs in a giddy undercurrent through my brain, wrapping verdant tendrils around neurons frozen by this brutal winter, causing them to awake and demand green. To see green. To smell green. To eat it.
Enter the Freekeh salad from The Kitchn. “Freekeh?” you might ask. To be sure, the only reason I had heard of this was because I live around the corner from a Middle Eastern market, even though I never knew what to do with it. It is a grain. Wheat, to be exact. Wheat in toasted green form. So this green wheat gets combined with chickpeas, warm spices, and deep green collard greens to create a salad of hopeful spring.
When you cook freekeh (labeled “frika” at my market,) you will have to stop and take pause. It actually smells like a fresh cut field of hay. If I closed my eyes, I could imagine late summer sunlight spilling carelessly out of the simmering pot. It is a remarkable thing. It does not taste like fresh cut hay, or at least what I assume hay tastes like, having never actually eaten it, but it does have a lovely fresh nuttiness I have not encountered in a grain before.
Then comes the dressing, a heady mix of olive oil, vinegar, tahini, and a generous round of a spice mix known as za’atar. Again, I luckily live around the corner from a Middle Eastern market that sells this in large packages, but it can be acquired online fairly readily, or you could make your own, should you be so inclined (and when I run through this giant pile of it I now have, I will be making my own!)
Mix the fresh chew of the freekeh and the warm tang of the dressing with the fresh air of thinly sliced raw fennel, a fair quantity of chickpeas, and a pile of raw collard greens, and you believe for a moment that the mere act of moving fork from plate to mouth will cause trees to bud outside your window.
Spring is pressing itself upon us. Why not help it along?
Mediterranean-Spiced Freekeh Salad with Collard Greens and Chickpeas (straight from The Kitchn)
For the salad:
1/3 cup (45 grams) sesame seeds
1 cup (185 grams) freekeh
1 bunch collard greens, de-stemmed, leaves thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
1 cup (170 grams) rinsed and drained chickpeas
1 small fennel bulb, quartered, cored and thinly sliced
For the dressing:
2 small garlic cloves, finely minced
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 1/2 tablespoons za’atar
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground allspice
Pinch sea salt and ground pepper
Warm a small, dry saucepan over medium heat and add the sesame seeds. Toast until fragrant and light golden-brown, 6 to 7 minutes. Shake the pan periodically to avoid burning. Once toasted, pour the seeds onto a clean plate and aside to cool.
Bring a medium pot of water to boil and add the freekeh. Bring back to a boil, then cover the pot and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the grains are al dente. Drain excess water and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine cooked freekeh, collard greens, chickpeas, and fennel. Whisk together garlic, tahini, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, and spices for the dressing in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Toss the salad with the dressing; season with additional salt and pepper as needed. Sprinkle the sesame seeds over top before serving.
Enjoy room temperature or cold. Cover and refrigerate leftovers for up to three days.
(And I’m not going to lie… I would make more dressing. Just do it. Trust me.)