Every Sunday, for the most part, is family day in Lebanon. A day of satisfying quiet with no traffic on the streets, where you can make the journey to your loved one's house in 5 minutes rather than 40.
Auntie Hania was normally in charge of organizing these Sunday fares, a responsibility which would inevitably stress her about what she should cook.
The time she made Freekeh was the time we all fell in love with it. Safe to say it became a regular feature for Sunday lunch.
Freekeh was an exciting culinary discovery for me, it's roasted cracked wheat making it a super versatile ingredient for many dishes (unfortunately not gluten friendly). You may use lamb shank as a cut of meat for this dish making it easier to eat as has fewer bones, unless your butcher is skilled at cleaning meat. Freekeh can be found at oriental supermarkets and I hope you do come across this marvelous grain with it's many, many possibilities. Get your freek-on!
Lamb and stock:
· 1.5 kg of lamb neck
· 1 bay leaf
· 2 cinnamon sticks
· 1 clove
· few lumps of mastiqa
· Arabic pepper to season (ground Allspice berries)
· 3 whole cardamon pods
· water for cooking
· 2.5 cups of freekeh washed and left to drain
· 2 medium brown onions
· 1 teaspoon cinnamon
· black pepper and salt to season
· 150g toasted almonds/ pine nuts for garnish
Yoghurt to serve:
· 500ml of yoghurt
· 1 tablespoon dried mint
· 1 garlic clove crushed with some salt
· 2 small Lebanese cucumbers chopped into cubes
1. Place the cut up large chunks of lamb into a large pot of water and place over heat until it comes to the boil. Remove the scum and then add 1 large bay leaf, cinnamon sticks 2x, 1 clove, mastiqa, sweet black pepper (Arabic) and cardamom pods. Cover and leave to cook in pressure cooker for 2 hours until tender and falling off the bone.
2. Freekeh loves onions! So the more the merrier. Chop the onions and fry in some oil in a large pot for around 5 mins until very soft. Add the freekeh and spices fry on a low heat for 7 mins. At this point ladle in some of the lamb stock from the neck of lamb until just covered. Place lid on the pot and cook on a very low heat (with a heat diffuser if possible) for around 35 to 40 mins. It depends on the type of grain so keep checking. When the grain has increased in size, softer but with a slight bite, you will know it is done. When ready to serve, sprinkle the toasted nuts on top of the freekeh.
3. Prepare the yoghurt by pounding the garlic with a bit of salt then placing this in a medium sized bowl where you add the yoghurt, dried mint and lastly cucumbers just before serving so that they don’t go soggy and retain their crunchiness.
4. Serve the freekeh and lamb in separate serving dishes along with the salad simply dressed with lemon olive oil & a sprinkle of sumac and you are ready to roll…Sahtein!