fennel and lemon freekeh
I’m a bit in love with this fennel and lemon freekeh recipe and I think you’ll love it too. Whenever I think about this recipe I have the sound of Missy Elliot – Get Your Freak On playing in my mind, except I change freak to freekeh. So now it is in yours too. Sorry about that.
I first had freekeh at Soho Farmhouse in the Cotswolds where they served it with the most gorgeous lemony and herby roast chicken. As always once I got home, I set about recreating it.
So what is freekeh?
I realise you may still be wondering what the heck freekeh (pronounced free-kah) is. Well it has a texture very similar to bulghur, pearl barley or risotto rice. It is a lovely starchy alternative to the usual offerings. It is traditionally used in Arabic cooking and is a roasted then cracked green wheat. It is low on the glycaemic index and has four times the fibre and twice the protein of white rice. If you can’t get hold of freekeh you can easily substitute an equal amount of pearl barley or bulghur in this recipe.
If you want to make a bigger or smaller quantity just remember to use the ratio of 1 part of the grain to 2 parts of the liquid (twice as much liquid as grain) in the recipe.
The recipe I’m sharing is a pilaf style dish. It is gorgeous with roast chicken, lamb, grilled fish or my Spanish meatballs. It is also yummy with my roasted cauliflower and chickpeas and a sprinkle of goats cheese or fried halloumi for a vegetarian dinner. In the photo here I topped it with a few roasted chickpeas which add a lovely crunch. Leftovers are a great lunchtime salad bulker-outer.
Fennel and lemon freekeh ingredients (makes enough for 4 people as a side)
- 1 large or 2 medium bulbs of fennel
- a knob of butter (around a teaspoon) or use rapeseed or olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
- 200g (7oz) freekeh – I don’t bother to rinse mine but you are meant to
- 400ml (14oz) chicken or vegetable stock – homemade chicken stock makes this so much better, my recipe is here. Or use Kallo stock cubes or fresh stock from the supermarket in the UK or organic Better than Boullion in the US
- three quarters of a teaspoon of grain sea salt – use less if you’re not using homemade stock as commercial stock already has salt added
- half to a teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1-2 lemons
- Optional – a couple of handfuls of chopped watercress or flat leaf parsley (Italian parsley in the US)
- Take your fennel and pinch off the green feathery fronds. Set them aside to add to the finished dish. Then sit the fennel on its flat root end and slice down through the fingery pieces at the top, down through the bulb to the base. Lay each half with the cut side down, root still intact. Then put the tip of your knife near the root but not through it (the root will help the fennel stay together while you slice) and slice down so you get about 10 slices from root to tip. Then turn the fennel and chop the root bit off so you’re left with slices. Do the same with the rest of the fennel.
- Put a knob of butter in a big, lidded chef pan or a large lidded saucepan or shallow Le Creuset style pan with a lid. If you don’t have a lid for your pan you can use foil to cover it tightly. Put the pan on a high heat until the butter starts to foam then tumble in the fennel slices. Stir and drop the heat to medium high. Cook for around 15 minutes with no lid on until the fennel softens and starts to turn golden.
- While the fennel cooks, peel and thinly slice your garlic and set aside. You can see a quick video of how I do this here.
- Once the fennel is golden, add the fennel seeds and garlic and cook for a minute before adding the freekeh.
- Stir well then bring the heat up to high and add the stock. Stir then cover with a lid. Bring up to a fast boil then stir and drop to a low simmer with bubbles only just breaking the surface.
- Leave the pan to cook with the lid on for 15-20 minutes. Try not to lift the lid too often, but after 10 minutes take a look, stir it and add a little bit of water if all the stock has been absorbed and the freekeh is still hard. The freekeh is ready when it has absorbed the liquid but still has a little bit of a bite in the middle of the grain.
- Take it off the heat, add the juice and zest of a lemon ( I use my Microplane zester) and a little salt and pepper along with the reserved fennel fronds. Stir and taste it again and adjust the seasoning, I usually add a lot of lemon zest to brighten the flavour.
- If you’re adding chopped herbs or watercress, add them at the end, just before serving so that the residual heat of the freekeh wilts them slightly.
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