Bulgur and farro are great, but have you tasted that other wheat grain, freekeh? Freekeh (also frike or frikeh) is a fire-roasted green wheat that's grown in Turkey, Syria and Lebanon. With a distinct green color and a smoky, nutty flavor, freekeh makes the best grain salads, ever.

Freekeh's toasty flavor comes from an elaborate roasting process where young, green wheat is harvested, allowed to dry briefly in the fields, and then set on fire. Because the wheat kernels are still immature and milky-moist, they smolder instead of burn. After the flavor imparting burn-roasting, the chaff is removed and the grains are left whole or cracked. The cracked kind is the tastier of the two, which is good, because it's the easiest to find here. Look for the grain at Middle Eastern markets where it might be labeled freekeh, frike, frikeh or even freak. Alwadi is a very good brand that doesn't need to be picked-over to remove tiny pebbles and sticks. A two-pound bag will set you back about six dollars.

Although freekeh is classically cooked into a pilaf, it's as a salad that it really satisfies. The grain tastes quite good simply simmered in water with a bit of olive oil and salt, so when embellished with herbs and such, it really delights. As a salad base it's versatile and adaptable. You can make a batch of freekeh and add what you fancy: green onions, cherry tomatoes, grilled zucchini, stone fruit, toasted nuts, cooked chicken, fresh herbs, toasted whole spices, diced cucumbers, a squeeze of lemon, crumbled goat or feta cheese. Another plus, freekeh salad can be made ahead, making it perfect to pack-up for your next concert-picnic or barbecue potluck.

freekeh grains; Credit: Jeanne Kelley

freekeh grains; Credit: Jeanne Kelley

Freekeh Salad with Grilled Zucchini

From: Jeanne Kelley

Note: This recipe is great as written, but you can swap-out or add ingredients to suit your tastes. Halved cherry tomatoes make a quick trade for the grilled zucchini. Dill, mint, basil or cilantro can be added in addition or in place of the parsley. Toasted nuts, about ½ cup of almonds, pistachios or pine nuts, add crunch and flavor–stir them into the salad just before serving it.

Makes: 8 servings

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided, plus additional for brushing

2 cups freekeh

3 ½ cups water

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 ¼ pounds zucchini, about 3 or 4, cut lengthwise into quarters

½ teaspoon cumin seeds

1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar

1 garlic clove, pressed

¾ cup chopped green onions

½ cup chopped fresh Italian Parsley

4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (optional)

1. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the freekeh and stir until the grains are coated with olive oil and lightly toasted, about 4 minutes. Add the water and kosher salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium. Simmer until the water is level with the freekeh and holes appear on the surface of the cooking grain, about 10 minutes. Cover and continue to simmer over low heat until all the water is absorbed and the freekeh is tender, about 10 minutes. Transfer the freekeh to a large bowl and fluff with a fork and cool.

2. Prepare the barbecue to medium high heat or heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Brush all sides of the zucchini with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and the cumin seeds. Grill the zucchini until it is well browned on all sides and tender, turning occasionally, about 8 minutes. Transfer the zucchini to a plate; cool slightly and cut it into ¾-inch pieces.

3. Whisk the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, vinegar and garlic in a small bowl to blend. Add the dressing to the salad along with the zucchini, green onions and parsley. (The salad can be prepared 2 days ahead, cover and refrigerate.)

Sprinkle the salad with feta cheese if desired and serve.

Jeanne Kelley is a Los Angeles cook and cookbook author, who also writes at Jeanne Kelley Kitchen. Or follow her on her Tumblr.

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