SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – Freekeh is an old grain typically enjoyed in countries in the Middle East, such as Syria, Lebanon and Egypt. But it is gaining popularity in kitchens in the U.S.

The wheat goes through a unique roasting process. It is harvested before it’s fully dried. It’s not really mature yet. The grains are still green. It’s piled up and sun-dried and then those piles are carefully set on fire so only the chaff and the straw burn away. The seeds are wet enough that they don’t burn. Then they are carefully thrashed and further sun-dried. They are ultimately cracked, though it’s not a very fine crack like the cracked wheat you buy in a store. It preserves the smoky character that comes from the burning off of that chaff.

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Freekeh can be utilized in many different dishes, from pilaf to stuffed pigeon, which is popular in Egypt. In Syria, it is often prepared with lamb. Freekeh normally does not take very long to cook and can be substituted for rice or couscous.

Freekeh also has many potential health benefits. It is high in protein and fiber and some researchers suggest it could even have benefits to digestive health

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It can be found at many ethnic food stores and is also becoming more readily available at health food stores and supermarkets.