Winter is nearly over – or almost nearly, at least – with longer days, a little more sun, and, for me, a craving for salad. At this time of year, with spring just around the corner and at the height of orange season, it seems most appropriate to eat plenty of oranges. They inject a little sunshine into still short days. Blood oranges, my personal favourite, play an important role in this vegan freekeh salad.
The freekeh needs to be cooked before being mixed into the salad, so it’s worth noting that it can be combined while still warm. I wouldn’t recommend mixing while it’s still red-hot, but a little heat is okay for these winter greens. Whole grains are an excellent healthy element to include in a plant-based diet – or any diet – and freekeh is a tasty, easy option.
A note about the red onion. If you’re particularly sensitive to raw onion but don’t want to leave it out, either pickle it or give it a quick ten minute soak in ice water before adding to the salad. Keep it in if at all possible as that added bite is fantastic. A bonus here is that the vinaigrette doesn’t need to be made in a separate container beforehand, everything is mixed in one large bowl instead. There’s nothing in the dressing that needs to be combined beforehand so this works well.
What is freekeh?
Freekeh is an ancient grain from the eastern Mediterranean (Levant) and North Africa. It’s unripened durum wheat, harvested while still green, and then roasted to remove the chaff and straw. The remaining grain is often cracked to reduce the cooking time but keep the high nutritional value. Freekeh has a particular slightly smokey flavour that’s very pleasant, especially in plant-based cooking.
• Freekeh is not gluten free, as it’s wheat.
• It’s high in protein, zinc, and manganese. 100 grams also contains 20% of your daily iron and magnesium requirements, so that’s nothing to sniff at, either.
• Cracked freekeh only needs about 25 minutes to cook.
• Bob’s Red Mill freekeh is organically grown.
• Freekeh is excellent in both savoury and sweet uses – keep an eye out for a sweet recipe soon.
Oranges, pepper, & olive oil
This healthy freekeh salad recipe is inspired by a Sicilian classic, which I first tried a couple of years ago at a friend’s Christmas celebration. Their aunt had lived in Italy for several years and was a wonderful cook, and the orange salad was a tradition for them – it’s sliced oranges, thinly sliced red onion, plenty of black pepper, olives, and olive oil. There are, of course, many variations, but that was theirs.
Since then, it’s become a personal favourite, although I leave out the olives. Despite my early skepticism, oranges, pepper, and olive oil are a truly perfect combination (it’s a classic for a reason). In this case, I’ve added freekeh to create a filling base, alongside chickpeas, fresh greens, and pumpkin seeds. A simple orange juice and olive oil vinaigrette keeps the original flavour notes of the salad in place and dresses the freekeh nicely.
This type of salad was the inspiration behind part of my winter mezze, too, where you can also see orange slices topped with pepper. I chose blood oranges for this recipe, which are a bit more tart. Navel oranges or another variety like cara cara would be just as good.
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Winter Freekeh Salad with Orange
- 2 ½ cups water
- 1 cup cracked freekeh
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 3 oranges peeled and sliced
- 2 cups arugula
- 1 cup cooked chickpeas
- 1 small red onion very thinly sliced
- ¼ cup pepitas
Orange Olive Oil Vinaigrette
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Juice of an orange
- Zest of an orange
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- To cook the freekeh, bring the water to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the freekeh and salt, then cover and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the water is fully absorbed. Remove from the burner and let sit, covered, for another 5 minutes.
- To assemble the salad, let the freekeh cool beforehand. Add to a large bowl with the oranges, arugula, chickpeas, onion, and pepitas.
- Top the salad with the vinaigrette ingredients and mix until very well combined. Best served immediately, but the salad can be refrigerated for up to two days.