Freekeh Friday

I’m big on freekeh. I’m impressed by this ancient grain’s natural abundance of sweet mild flavor, protein, fiber, and vitamins. These days I’m on the lookout for more ways to incorporate it in my meal plan—especially on Fridays, my favorite day of the week.

Freekeh cooks fast, it has a slight chewiness and readily absorbs flavors, which actually makes it a viable alternative to ground meats. If you think about it, one reason why chili is so delicious is due to fat from the meats included—which further drives and elevates the various chile flavors.

For an acceptable chili substitute, I want one that cooks in a fairly short amount of time and delivers big flavors. With that in mind, I begin by sautéing onions and garlic in rich olive oil, then introduce levels of flavor from a range of chiles including adobo, canned Ortega chiles, smoked paprika, and chile powder. Precooked freekeh is added to absorb these flavors, backed up with tomato product and pinto beans.  It then simmers for 20-30 minutes to bring it all together.

4-Alarm Freekeh Chili

Good news. This 4-alarm chili is healthy and tastes delicious, plus it’s filling and easily digested. It does not make as much as a traditional batch of chili, but a little goes a long way and it is easily doubled.

I really like the chili spread on tostadas and topped with whatever else is on hand.

Freekeh Tostada

I learned this trick while living in Mexico—I was set free once I discovered that Mexican home cooks do not cook their own tostadas. They purchase precooked tostadas for everyday meals (they would use refried beans). Now I regularly stock a package for quick meals and snacks.

So, layer it in a bowl or try it on your own tortillas. You don’t need to wait for Friday to enjoy this chili.

Four-Alarm Freekeh Chili

2-3 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chop
3 cloves garlic, mash & mince
1 Tbsp each chile powder and smoked paprika, 1 tsp ground cumin
2 chipotles in adobo, mince; 1-2 Tbsp canned chopped Ortega chilies
3-4 cups cooked cracked freekeh*
15-oz can crushed or diced tomatoes
15-oz can pinto beans, drain
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp cornmeal
1 cup water


In a soup pot over medium heat, sauté the onion and garlic in hot oil. Add the chile powder, smoked paprika, and cumin and cook until aromatic. Add the chipotles and Ortega chilies and toss to combine.

Add the cooked freekeh, stir and cook for 5 minutes to incorporate flavors.  Add the tomatoes, pinto beans, Worcestershire, cornmeal, and water.  Bring to a boil and reduce to low. Simmer partially cover for 20-30 minutes until thick.  Adjust seasoning.  Serve 4

To precook freekeh:  Bring 1 cup cracked freekeh, pinch of salt, and 2½ cups water to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, simmer 20 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes; drain if needed.  Yields 3 cups, approx.

Sorghum: worth knowing about

For centuries sorghum has been used as a flour for flatbreads in both India and Africa.  Today, its similarities in taste and texture to wheat flour make it a worthy gluten-free baking option.

 This ancient grain has plenty of health benefits, too.  Sorghum has abundant levels of fiber, unsaturated fats and nearly half the daily intake of protein. It is rich in minerals like phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and iron, and such vitamins as niacin, riboflavin, and thiamine. Plus, it has more antioxidants than blueberries and pomegranates.

Sorghum’s exterior shell presents more of a cooking challenge than many ancient grains. Since a prolonged low simmer is necessary, the slow cooker is an ideal tool for the job. I recently gave it a try in my small slow cooker and I ended up with a mellow satisfying chili variation, sans meat.

Once the sorghum was almost tender, I added a sautéed vegetable melange along with diced tomato, and let the flavors simmer until thick.

Sorghum Chili, ready for layering
Sorghum Chili, ready for layering

Spiced up to personal taste, the Sorghum Chili yields a slightly chewy texture similar to barley, making it a nutrient-rich, light alternative to the traditional heavy bean laden chili.  Layer it with plenty of optional components like onion, tomatoes, and cheese.

Here are two cooking options, a stove-top version and a crock pot alternative.

Light and Easy Sorghum Chili

1 cup sorghum, rinsed
2 3/4 cups boiling water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, divided in half
½ teaspoon salt
½ onion, dice
1 clove garlic, crush
1 green pepper, pasilla or bell, seed and dice
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)
1 tablespoon chile powder
1 Roma tomato, seed, dice
½ cup grated cheese, jack, harvarti, or cheddar


  1. In a medium sized pot, bring 2 cups water to a boil. Add half of the oil, salt, sorghum, and cook 5 minutes; reduce to medium. Cover and simmer until water reaches the level of the grains, 30 – 40 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a sauté pan, add remaining oil, the onion and garlic and sauté until soft; add the pepper and seasonings and stir until aromatic.  Add the Roma tomato and toss to combine and add all to the sorghum.
  3. Reduce to low, placing a double layer of tea towel under the lid to absorb moisture, and cook until the water has evaporated and the grains are puffed with a tender bite, an additional 10-15 minutes; a total of 45-55 minutes. Adjust seasoning. Stir in ½ cup grated cheese until melted and creamy.  Serves 3-4.

For Slow Cooked Sorghum
Cooking in a slow cooker may accumulate water in the lid, which contributes excess liquid to the pot. To alleviate the water gain, add a tea towel below the lid in the final cooking stage to help with water absorption.
In a small slow cooker set on high, combine 1 cup sorghum and 2 ¾ cup boiling water, drizzle with oil and a sprinkle of salt.  Cook on high for 2-3 hours, or until the water reaches the level of the grains.
Add the seasoned sautéed vegetables, reduce to low, cover with lid lined with a double layer of tea towel to absorb moisture, and cook until the water has evaporated and the grains are puffed with a tender bite, an additional 30-40 minutes.  Adjust seasoning. Stir in ½ cup grated cheese until melted and creamy and serve.  Serves 3-4.