Lebanese Food / Wine and Culinary Traditions

Lebanese Food / Wine and Culinary Traditions
Spring time always inspires me...

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Fishing with Raymond

This is my friend Raymond Yazbeck, Ray to some...Ray is a professional photographer with years of experience, including the publication of several books. I met him many years ago when I first had the dream of doing a book on man'oushe. He showed me the way. He is like the brother I never had... So what does one do with his brother, one goes fishing! Great fun.

Freekeh in the Deep South

© Mouneh 2010

Roasted green wheat, better known as freekeh, is roasted, parched wheat which has a chewy green grain and a flavorful, smoky nutty taste. It is said that wheat was picked early in the season and burnt during the Ottoman period to deter farmers from paying high taxes. Since, it has become a traditional way of eating wheat. It is a specialty known in Lebanon and neighboring countries such as Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Palestine.  The word freekeh comes from the Arabic word al-freek meaning “what is rubbed”; this is in reference to the process of making the actual roasted wheat, which involves rubbing the wheat grains with one’s hands to free them of their shell.

Freekeh can be cooked in many ways. As a substitute for burghul or rice, it accompanies recipes made with beef, chicken, lamb and lately even seafood. It can make flavorful stuffing for vegetables like zucchini, eggplant, and grape leaves. Freekeh can also be an interesting ingredient cooked in soups. Combined with fresh vegetables, it is often mixed in different types of salads. Experimentation with freekeh has also led to interesting and delicious breads. Roasted green wheat is certainly gaining recognition in homes around the country and from chefs worldwide.  With the increase in the number of vegetarians, freekeh is popular among those who savor its roasted smoky flavor, suggesting the taste of smoked meats.

To make freekeh, the green wheat stalks are harvested when the wheat is between the milk and soft dough stage. With experience, the farmer knows exactly when to pick the wheat. If the wheat is picked too early, the grains collapse. If it is picked too late, the grains will not have their distinctive green color. The wheat is harvested by mowing the stand down with a sickle bar or a mower. It is then gathered into bunches in a big pile and tied into tight bundles. The wheat is dried for 2 to 4 hours before being roasted in the fields over an open wood or charcoal fire made with dry bunches of a thorny bush called ballan. Ballan is used to smoke the freekeh because it produces a small amount of ash when it burns, dying down after a few minutes. Its use is said to reduce contamination of the wheat. The burning lasts for 10 to 15 minutes, until a characteristic popping sound is made. Here again, the farmer’s experience is essential. Wind velocity and actual site position is taken into consideration to ensure uniform roasting. 

When the wheat is finally roasted, a wire mesh frame is set up, usually made up of an old bedspring. The wheat is thrown in bunches on the bedspring and beaten with a small broom to rid it of impurities, debris, and undesirable black ash. The wheat bunches are gathered from the wire mesh and carefully stored to dry for a couple of days. The heads are collected in large bags and taken to a mill where the grain will be separated from the chaff. In the past, this was done by flailing the wheat with wooden poles. Today, the operation is done through a threshing machine. The threshed grains are later left to dry on clean dry surface in a shaded area for a couple of days or weeks depending on the weather. When the grains are completely dry, they are scrupulously checked for remaining debris; this is where you can differentiate the quality of the freekeh purchased from one producer to another. The grains are kept whole or coarsely ground to be packed into neat storage bags. Before freekeh is used for cooking, it is usually soaked overnight to reduce the amount of cooking time.

Serdeleh Cheese and the Baby Goat

Mothers will understand how I felt about this baby goat. The experience of life with goats: caring for them, milking them, walking them and simply living with them is special. I, for one, am deeply affected by it. I will go and walk with Ezzat Majed this summer to live through this experience. I will never forget this day spent with them. The Serdeleh cheese is really awesome. It is pungent, sharp, creamy, crumbly and salty. It melts in your mouth and leaves an aftertaste of goat that is simply unforgettable.