Adding the oomph to a healthy meal

Joe Yonan

THE WASHINGTON POST – Something about a grain salad always helps me bridge the seasons. Like lighter soups, they fill me up without weighing me down, and they can usually be served cold, hot or in between.

My favourite grains for such salads are the heartier ones: brown or wild rice, barley, farro.

For these salads, I want something I can sink my teeth into, which rules out fluffy couscous and flyaway quinoa. But I also appreciate something quick-cooking, which is where broken grains come in. I’m thinking coarse bulgur and, when I can find it, freekeh.

Freekeh is a grain with an interesting backstory, a legend involving a long-ago fire that burned still-green wheat in the Middle East. I’ve seen some accounts peg it to an act of war, while Roxana Jullapat, in her gorgeous book Mother Grains, pins it on two neighboring farmers caught in a dispute. Whatever the truth is, the important part of the story is that the grains were discovered to be still edible once the outer burned part was removed.

And not just edible: Pardon the wordplay, but freekeh is freaking delicious, with a slightly chewy texture and a subtly smoky flavour. It also cooks in just 15 minutes or so, which makes it suitable for last-minute dinner planning. Jullapat’s recipe pairs it with blanched sugar snap peas, raw baby spinach leaves and quickly sauteed leeks and mushrooms, bound in a simple lemon vinaigrette.

She serves the salad cold in the deli case of her Los Angeles restaurant Friends & Family, but I devoured it at room temperature – and can imagine warming it through in a skillet or the microwave as the days tilt harder toward winter.

Freekeh with shiitake mushrooms, leeks and snap peas. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

FREEKEH WITH SHIITAKE MUSHROOMS, LEEKS AND SNAP PEAS
30 minutes
4 servings
This grain salad is full of interesting textures: chewy freekeh, crunchy snap peas and slightly leathery mushrooms. If you haven’t encountered freekeh, it’s cracked green wheat that has been smoked, giving the grain a subtle woodsy flavour. If you can’t find it, feel free to substitute another chewy grain, such as barley, farro or brown rice; just follow the package directions for cooking them.

Make Ahead: The freekeh, snap peas and leek-mushroom mixture can each be cooked separately and refrigerated for up to 2 days before making the salad.

Storage Notes: The salad can be refrigerated for up to three days.

INGREDIENTS
– 1 cup (5 ounces) freekeh
– 2 cups water
– 1 1/4 teaspoons fine sea salt or table salt, divided, plus more to taste
– 2 cups (6 ounces) sugar snap peas (may substitute snow peas or green beans)
– 1 small leek (8 ounces), white and light green parts
– 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
– 3 cups (5 ounces) fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and caps thinly sliced
– 2 cups (2 ounces) baby spinach
– 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus more to taste

DIRECTIONS
In a medium dry saucepan over medium heat, toast the freekeh, tossing, until fragrant, two to three minutes. Add the water and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the freekeh is tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain any excess water and transfer the freekeh to a large salad bowl.

While the freekeh is cooking, remove the tough string that runs along the side of each sugar snap pea.

Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil, add 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and blanch the snap peas until bright green and tender, about two minutes. Drain immediately and let cool completely. Cut each pea into thirds at an angle and add to the freekeh in the bowl.

Cut the leek in half lengthwise and slice into thin half-moons. Put the slices in a bowl and cover with cold water to remove any dirt. Using a slotted spoon or spider, lift the leeks out of the water and drain. If they are still gritty, repeat the process.

In a large saute pan over medium-high heat, heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil until it shimmers.

Add the cleaned leeks and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about five minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, until they release their liquid, darken and soften, four to five minutes. Transfer the mixture to the salad bowl and let cool.

Roughly chop the spinach and add it to the salad bowl.

Pour the lemon juice into a small bowl. Pour in the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil in a thin, steady stream while whisking vigorously. Whisk in the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Add the vinaigrette to the salad and toss to combine. Taste, and season with more salt and/or lemon juice, if needed.

Serve at room temperature, or chill in the refrigerator and serve cold.

Nutrition information per serving (1 1/2 cups) | Calories: 442; Total Fat: 29 g; Saturated Fat: 4 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 763 mg; Carbohydrates: 41 g; Dietary Fiber: 7 g; Sugar: 6 g; Protein: 11 g