Freekeh with chicken is a dish from Kuwait, that is prepared with freekeh, a fiber-rich cereal made from wheat ears harvested before maturity.
As part of OPEC, the state of Kuwait is more famous for its oil than for its natural, cultural or artistic beauty. It is a desert territory, mainly dedicated to the oil business which has been booming.
Kuwait is a state where it is difficult to find one’s identity. In fact, 90% of the country’s workforce is made up of foreigners, which means that a large part of the population is Western and lives there just for professional reasons. However, in some parts of the country where oil seems to dominate everything, there are still some protected natural areas where you can admire wildlife and desert landscapes such as the famous Jal Az Zor National Park or the Jahra Pools, with its marshes and marine park Umm al-Maradim with crystal clear waters and fine sand.
One of the most important dishes of Kuwaiti cuisine is majboos, a specialty made of basmati rice seasoned with spices, with chicken or lamb, such as the chicken majboos that I prepared for the Sultanate of Oman.
Fish and seafood are also a very important part of Kuwait’s diet. Favorites include hamour (grouper), which is served grilled or fried or in small pieces in biryani rice, zbaidi (pomfret), safi (rabbitfish), and soba (dorado).
Here are some other Kuwaiti specialties:
- Balaleet (in Arabic, بلاليط): sweet saffron noodles served with a salty tortilla on top.
- Biryani (Arabic, برياني): rice with chicken or lamb is a dish from the Indian subcontinent.
- Harees (Arabic, هريس): wheat cooked with meat and then crushed, usually topped with sugar and cinnamon.
- Maqlooba (Arabic, مقلوبة): rice cooked with meat, potatoes and eggplants, similar to makluba we featured for Jordan.
- Zalabia (Arabic, زلابية): fried dough soaked in sugar syrup, lemon and saffron, with a distinctive swirling shape.
- Tabbouleh: same as Lebanese tabbouleh, made from flat parsley and bulgur.
- Fattoush salad: a fresh salad composed of raw vegetables.
- Kibbehs: made from ground beef but also lamb, chicken or fish. They are also found in Iraqi cuisine.
- Sambussa: largely inspired by the delicious samosas of Indian cuisine.
- And finally, baklava, which is ubiquitous in the whole region.
Kuwait is a Muslim country, and among the most common religious practices is Daq Al-Harees, meaning “grinding the wheat”. This occasion is celebrated while preparing for Ramadan. Each family buys very large quantities of wheat and then invites a group of women who are skilled at grinding wheat. They grind the wheat to the rhythm of the music, singing, accompanied by women musicians.
The dish presented here is precisely made from wheat. This wheat is called freekeh.
What is freekeh?
Freekeh, also called frik or farik, is a traditional Middle Eastern preparation made from grilled green wheat. This wheat, which is harvested young, still green, retains all its beneficial properties, and has a unique taste. It has been used in the Middle East for thousands of years as a staple like rice in Asia.
Freekeh with chicken is an absolutely delicious dish, flavored with cinnamon and cardamom, and sprinkled with almonds and pine nuts.
Freekeh with chicken is a traditional recipe that is popular throughout the Middle East and particularly in Kuwait.
- 8 chicken legs (whole)
- 24 oz. freekeh
- 3 yellow onions , quartered
- 3 red onions , chopped
- 4 cubes chicken stock
- 4 sticks cinnamon
- 10 pods cardamom
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon ground cardamom
- 1½ cup slivered almonds
- 1 cup pine nuts
- Vegetable oil
- Spread the freekeh flat on a white surface and remove any small pebbles or impurities.
- Rinse in cold water in a very fine sieve, then let it soak by covering with water while preparing the chicken.
Cook the chicken legs in 5 quarts (5 liters) of salted boiling water with the chicken stock cubes, yellow onions, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, and bay leaves for about 1 hour to cover.
- Remove the chicken pieces and reserve the broth.
- Remove the chicken skin and bone it. Shred all the chicken pieces and set aside.
- Filter the broth.
- Drain and dry the freekeh with a cloth.
- In a large Dutch oven, sauté the chopped red onions in 6 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add the freekeh and mix for 5 minutes over medium to low heat.
- Add the cinnamon and cardamom powder, salt, pepper, and mix well for 2 to 3 minutes so that the freekeh gets coated with the spices.
Pour the filtered chicken broth so that the liquid level is about ½ inch (1 cm) above the freekeh level. Bring to a boil, then reduce to low heat and simmer covered for about 25 minutes.
- In a skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of oil and toast the pine nuts and slivered almonds very quickly until golden brown, constantly watching and stirring.
- Serve the freekeh topped with shredded chicken and sprinkled with almonds and pine nuts.