Freekeh Pilaf with Chickpeas

HomeMiddle EastFreekeh Pilaf with Chickpeas
By Published On: September 17th, 2021

My Freekeh Pilaf is a complex, flavourful and healthy combination of colour, flavour and texture like nothing else. It’s the perfect Middle Eastern side that pretty much always steals the show.

Freekeh cooked with onion and chickpeas in a large serving bowl

This freekeh pilaf is one of my favourite staples to cook as an alternative to rice. Freekeh is cracked wheat that’s packed full of fibre and a healthy choice to for heart and gut benefits. It has a wonderful nutty taste and a soft, slightly chewy texture that I just love.

Freekeh is widely eaten across the Middle East and Mediterranean, and features in delicious pilafs, stews, salads and more. It’s amazing with meats and fish as the grains take on flavour so well. But because they are so hearty and filling they’re an excellent vegan ingredient to ensure you fill up without pigging out!

Is bulgur the same as freekeh?

Bulgur and freekeh are both wheat grains, they’re similar but have different harvesting processes which make them distinctive nutritionally, in appearance and in taste.

Bulgur are grains that are harvested when fully developed and ripe. The grains are left whole or cracked into various sizes and then part-boiled or steamed and re-dried. This process helps speed up the final cooking process. Like freekeh, bulgur is a good choice for pilafs, salads and soups. Try my delicious Turkish Bulgur Pilaf with Lamb & Silverbeet. You can also use bulgur, instead of freekeh, for this recipe.

Freekeh grains are harvested when under-ripe and still green, meaning they retain more of their nutritional value. They are sometimes left whole but more commonly cracked to help with digestion. Freekeh grains take a little longer to cook (about 20 minutes), but absorb liquids well creating a wonderful soft and toothsome texture.

Freekeh Grains in a pestle

Stuff you'll need

For my pilaf, we’re drawing on the flavours and ingredients of the Middle East. A mix of warm spice, sourness and fresh grassy herbs. In combination with the nutty freekeh, this dish is complex in flavour, texture and colour. There’s a full recipe below, but here are the key players.

  • Freekeh - cracked freekeh
  • Chickpeas - for their creamy, nutty flavour and to bulk out the salad with more interesting textures
  • Barberries - these are delicious small berries, eaten around the world and popular in Persian and Middle Eastern cuisines. They have an intense sour-sweetness that is a splendid addition. You can find them dried in most Middle Eastern Stores, or online. As a substitute, use raisins or sultanas.
  • Spices - warming spices bring a fragrance without heat to encapsulate the essence of the Middle East. Cumin, coriander, turmeric, paprika and Aleppo pepper work their magic!
  • Onion - For a sweet note, with a little charred caramelisation too.
  • Herbs A hit of fresh herbs at the end lighten up the pilaf. I always use parsley and interchange the second herb between dill, mint and oregano. I also like to add a little lemon zest too to bring a citrus freshness.

Key stages of making the pilaf

My pilaf is created in two stages - a way to ensure maximum flavour and a good, fluffy texture.

  1. Cooking the freekeh - I cook the freekeh separately with a few spices, the barberries and onion. For a tastier finish, I’ll cook it in stock: chicken or vegetable. I use 1:1 ratio for liquid and cook low and slow for 20-25 minutes. It cooks the same way as the absorbtion method for rice. At the end, when all the liquid is gone, I cover the pan with a tea towel and return the lid - I then leave it for 20-30 minutes. This catches any steam and ensures the pilaf is as fluffy as a cloud!
  2. Cooking the chickpeas - To avoid overcooking the chickpeas, I like to add them later. This also gives an opportunity for more flavour. I fry some onions, letting them lightly char around the edges. It gives a lovely sweet caramelised flavour. More spices are added and then the whole thing mixed into the fluffy freekeh along with some fresh herbs.
Freekeh cooked with onion and chickpeas in a large serving bowl

How to make Freekeh Pilaf with Chickpeas

Freekeh cooked with onion and chickpeas in a large serving bowl

Freekeh Pilaf with Chickpeas

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Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time25 minutes
Resting15 minutes
Total Time55 minutes
Servings (adjustable) 6
Calories (per serving) | 288

Ingredients

For the freekeh

For the spiced chickpeas

Other Ingredients

  • ¼ cup parsley (chopped)
  • ¼ cup dill (chopped)
  • ¼ cup mint (chopped)
  • ¼ cup sliced almonds (toasted) (or pistachio or pine nuts)
  • ½ lemon (juice of)

Instructions

For the freekeh

  • Cover the freekeh with cold water and leave while you prepare the onion base.
  • Heat the oil in a saucepan over a moderate heat until hot. Add the diced onion, and fry gently for 2-3 minutes until soft. 
  • Add the garlic and fry of 1 minute before adding the cumin, coriander, turmeric, salt and pepper. Stir for about 20 seconds and then add the tomato puree and barberries.
  • Stir well to combine everything. Drain the freekeh and tip into the onion mix. Stir well to combine then pour in the stock (or water). Bring this to a simmer, reduce the heat to low and cover the pan. Cook gently for 15-20 minutes until all the liquid has evaporated remove from the heat. 
  • Cover the pan with a clean teatowel or paper towel and return the lid. Leave for 15 minutes to absorb more of the moisture.

For the spiced chickpeas

  • Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over a medium/high heat until hot. Add the onion slices and let them fry for 4-5 minutes, turning once or twice. Let them get a little browned on the edges. 
  • Add the cumin, paprika, coriander, Aleppo pepper and salt. and stir briefly. tumble in the drained chickpeas and stir well for 1-2 minutes to combine everything. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.
  • Once cooled, tip the freekeh into a large bowl and fluff with a fork. Fish out the lemon peel. Carefully stir in the chickpeas along with the parsley, dill, almonds and lemon juice.
  • Decant to a serving bowl or platter and serve at room temperature.

Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
Freekeh Pilaf with Chickpeas
Amount Per Serving
Calories 288 Calories from Fat 117
% Daily Value*
Fat 13g20%
Saturated Fat 1g6%
Trans Fat 1g
Polyunsaturated Fat 2g
Monounsaturated Fat 8g
Sodium 632mg27%
Potassium 194mg6%
Carbohydrates 37g12%
Fiber 7g29%
Sugar 3g3%
Protein 11g22%
Vitamin A 723IU14%
Vitamin C 13mg16%
Calcium 79mg8%
Iron 2mg11%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Course | Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine | Middle Eastern
Keyword | farik, freekeh, Pilaf
Freekeh cooked with onion and chickpeas in a large serving bowl

Did you make my Freekeh Pilaf with Chickpeas

How did you go? Let me know in the comments below and be sure to tag @cookeatworld at Instagram.

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