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

Ingredients
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

Instructions

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.

Saved by Chicken Tostadas

I’m sitting in my tiny summer quarters greeting the new day.  Outside, it looks to be another beauty:  mid-80’s, sunny and warm.  But inside, it’s a slightly different story.  There is no kitchen to speak of here; I rented this space, sight unseen, with that understanding.

marionberry quilter.com
Courtesy Marionberryquilter.com

I’ve decided that this is definitely worth the challenge though, because 1) it is small and 2) I am surrounded by some of the richest agricultural land imaginable. Just an inkling of the season ahead, it is now a rolling checkerboard of overwinter grasses and grains, fields of flowers, early lettuces, trained berry bushes, orchards, groves, vineyards, and much, much more.

For some time now I have been following the Tiny House movement and am deeply intrigued by the idea of ‘living small’. For a person who lives to cook, the idea of constantly eating out is not even a remote option. I know I need a kitchen, so I need to figure this out: What are my most essential needs? Will this make me utterly crazy?

I regard my tiny space as a 10’x12’ living laboratory.  Although I rented it furnished, over the past month it has evolved from a mundane bedroom into a creative, writerly kitchen.  A piece at a time, I have replaced an old over- stuffed recliner with a desk and chair.  In the corner near the bed, a low sprawling cabinet has been swapped out for a bookcase with my most treasured cookbooks and research material.

The small fridge has been moved out of the closet to the opposite corner, between a tall cart housing a convection/toaster oven and a rolling cart with microwave and Nu-Wave burner.  A storage unit previously holding clothes now contains all my food supplies:  grains, flours, herbs spices, some dry goods and a few canned items.  In the center of it all, 2-1/2 foot folding table is now my work/prep combo dining area. It works.

Yesterday, it was only in the mid 80’s outside and quite warm in here―air circulation is not great, the sporadic air conditioning, unreliable.  For the past two days I had been planning to re-test a kale, mushroom, prosciutto, egg dish―you could say a cross between a baked Dutch Baby and a Toad in a Hole.  Tempting, but it would have to wait another day: by 7PM it was still too hot for any serious cooking.

Instead, I settled on an old standby:  Chicken Tostadas.TostadaOn my last trip to Mexico I realized I must be the last living person not using pre-baked tostada shells.  Granted, you can make your own, but as a handy back-up, they replace baked/fried tortillas quite nicely.  Simply re-heat in the microwave, layer on favorite toppings and you are done.

And I was done, too―mercifully saved by Chicken Tostadas.

Chicken Tostadas

For a quick meal or a snack, this hardly requires a recipe: use what you love!

Ingredients

For one  serving
1 packaged or homemade Tostada shell
2-3 Tbsp seasoned refried beans
2 Tbsp melting cheese:  queso asadero, Muenster, jack, or cheddar cheese, grated
Lettuce or Cilantro Slaw (cabbage/vinaigrette seasoned with lime juice, oregano, cumin, and cilantro)
½ cup roast chicken, shredded
Garnishes:   slivered avocado, cilantro, radishes, shredded cheese, salsa or taco sauce

Directions

  1. Heat the beans, shred or crumble the cheese, shred the lettuce or prepare the Cabbage Slaw
  2. Shred the chicken
  3. On microwaveable plate, spread the tostada with refried beans and top with cheese. Microwave 45 seconds, until cheese is melted
  4. Top with the slaw or lettuce, chicken and garnish as desired.