Get Your Freekeh On with Balsamic Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions, and Feta

Sometimes I do Q&As on Instagram and lots of people have been asking me lately how I shop for the week.

The answer: I do a Supermarket Sweep every Monday at Cookbook in Echo Park. It’s a SuperMarket Sweep because you get the store to yourself, but you only get ten minutes, so you have to go as fast as you can. Here’s my strategy: dry goods first (Rancho Gordo beans, pastas, ancient grains like freekeh (more on that in a sec)), fruits and vegetables next (I load up on as many as I can; I feel like you can’t buy too many fruits and vegetables during Covid, they can go into salads, side dishes, desserts), and, finally, I buy three proteins to dole out over the week. One of those proteins is almost alway sausage because sausages work in soups, pastas, or you can cook them whole in tomato sauce and serve over polenta.

The biggest challenge for me has been: vegetarian dinners. My default, as you can probably guess from my archives, is almost always pasta. My other default is beans. And when we’ve had enough from those categories, I turn to… ancient grains like freekeh. I told you I’d come back to it.

Freekeh, as mentioned twice now, is an ancient grain, a superfood like quinoa, spelt, and farro, that’s made from wheat harvested early. I cook it, according to the package directions, by toasting it in olive oil (similar to how I toast oatmeal in the morning), then adding water, salt, pepper, and letting it simmer with the lid on for thirty minutes.

The other ingredient I had on hand from the last sweep through Cookbook was a bevy of assorted mushrooms. I did some Googling — “Ottolenghi mushrooms” was my search — and actually found a recipe of his featuring bulgur and mushrooms. I figured it would work just as well with freekeh and, sure enough, it did.

When I encounter a recipe like that online, these days, I don’t print it or follow it to the letter. I just read it and get the gist; then I riff on it.

So, in this case, I cooked the onions and garlic in a pan, as he suggests, and then I seared the mushrooms in that same pan. I used my strange technique of adding olive oil, getting it hot, adding the mushrooms, letting them color, and then — here’s where it gets strange — adding a splash of water. I do this because I don’t love the texture of mushrooms that don’t cook down a bit in liquid; it gives them a chance to soften and cook through before the water evaporates and they sear again.

Once that happens, you add a splash of balsamic (those are the first batch of balsamic mushrooms on the left) and let the liquid cook away. The second time I did that, I shook the pan — which was very hot — and some of the oil must’ve caught on the burner, because the entire pan ignited into flames. It was very Top Chef just as Craig walked into the kitchen. I think he was impressed. (He would’ve been less impressed if I’d caught the whole kitchen on fire.)

To finish, you toss the balsamic mushrooms, the sauteed onions and garlic, with the freekeh, along with some Urfa chili, chopped parsley (Ottolenghi calls for dill, which I didn’t have), and crumbled Feta.

It makes for a hearty, surprisingly nutritious dinner that doesn’t involve pasta or beans. As long as you don’t burn down your kitchen doing it, you’ll definitely be adding this to the rotation.

Print

Freekeh with Balsamic Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions, and Feta

A riff on a recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi with surprising pops of flavor.

Ingredients

  • 1 package freekeh (250 grams) I like the Canaan brand
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 yellow onion, sliced thin
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced thin
  • 2 cups assorted mushrooms, wiped clean, stemmed (unless the stems are edible), and sliced
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Urfa chili (to taste)
  • Chopped parsley
  • Crumbled Feta

Instructions

  • Cook the Freekeh according to package instructions. You should monitor the heat when the freekeh is simmering; if it drinks the water too quickly, you may need to add more and lower the heat. Taste for salt and pepper.
  • In a non-stick skillet, heat a splash of olive oil (about 3 tablespoons) until hot. Add the sliced onion and let cook, without salting, until it starts to turn dark brown. Add the garlic and continue cooking, monitoring the pan, so nothing burns. When everything is good and golden, add a pinch of salt, stir around, and add to the pan with the finished freekeh.
  • In that same skillet, heat another 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and add half of your mushrooms, plus a pinch of salt. Allow to sizzle; if no liquid is released, add a splash of water and let the mushrooms simmer until the liquid evaporates. Continue to sear until the mushrooms are a deep brown. Carefully add a splash of Balsamic vinegar — don't shake the pan too much or the oil might ignite! — and cook until the liquid is absorbed. Stir the mushrooms into the freekeh and repeat again with the second batch of mushrooms.
  • To finish, stir in Urfa chili to taste (it takes a lot to really taste it). Add chopped parsley and as much Feta as you like. You can eat it right away or let sit and eat later.

Related Posts:

The Best Way To Cook Farro

Fun Times with Farro: Cauliflower and Cara Cara Oranges, Smoked Trout and Parmesan

Freekeh Tabbouleh with Harissa-Roasted Chickpeas (Chef Heidi Fink)

Freekeh, Chickpea, and Herb Salad (Martha Rose Shulman, NYT)

Triple-Herb Freekeh (Food Network)