Stuffed meats and vegetables, combined with freekeh, take centre stage at family gatherings
By Mai Kakish
Arab cooks take much pride in their dishes, especially those prepared for a special occasion or celebration. Stuffed meats and vegetables take centrepiece at family gatherings during the holy month of Ramadan, using ingredients which are often seasonal and fresh.
Few Arab family meals are as popular as chicken stuffed with freekeh (a green roasted wheat). Delicious and nutritious, the freekeh pilaf is topped with toasted nuts and chewy sweet dried fruits to further sweeten the taste.
This version features chicken but can work with other cuts, such as a leg of lamb. Serve any of the leftover freekeh stuffing on the side or turn it into a salad for the following day.
Preparation and cooking time: 2.5 hours
The stuffing (freekeh)
450g (1lb) freekeh that has been picked over, rinsed a few times and drained (or try hashweh stuffing – recipe on my blog)
1l (4 cups) chicken or beef stock or water
4 tbsps olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp allspice
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cardamom
a few grates of fresh nutmeg
1 bay leaf
450g (1lb) of ground meat, either beef or lamb. Minced meat is optional
Nuts and dried fruits
75g (½ cup) assorted dried fruits such as apricots, figs, and currants, chopped into bite-size pieces
150g (1 cup) of assorted nuts such as almonds, cashews, pine nuts, and pistachios
1.4 – 2.25kg (3-5lbs) chicken, patted dry with a paper towel
3 tbsps olive oil, plus more for roasting
2 tsp all spice
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cardamom
1 tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp garlic powder
salt and pepper
½ tsp cinnamon
The nuts and dried fruit
1. Toast the nuts in a dry skillet for a few minutes until they are fragrant – look for a light toasty colour. Don’t burn them or the taste will be bitter.
2. If you are using an assortment of nuts, toast them separately as they have different oil content and cooking times.
3. Set aside to cool.
1. In a heavy pot, heat the oil, add the meat and saute, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. It should take about 8-10 mins until it’s browned.
2. Add the cleaned freekeh, spices and bay leaf. Toss with the meat for 5 mins until it’s slightly toasted.
3. Add the stock or water and bring the mixture to the boil, adjusting the seasoning.
4. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 40-60 mins until all the liquid has absorbed and the freekeh is cooked through. The freekeh shouldn’t be crunchy but naturally chewy and al dente. It also needs to hold its shape.
5. Fluff with a fork. Add the dried fruits and nuts and fluff gently to combine.
6. Set aside while you prepare the chicken.
1. Preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F).
2. In a small bowl, mix all the spices and olive oil together.
3. Rub the spice mixture all over the chicken and inside the cavity
4. Note: You can prepare this step the night before, with the chicken in plastic wrap, letting the spices and salt marinate the chicken – but don’t worry If you don’t have time. You can also cook the chicken there and then, it’s not a problem.
5. Spoon the freekeh mix into the cavity of the chicken.
6. Cross the chicken legs and tie them with a twine.
7. Place the chicken In a roasting pan and drizzle all over with olive oil – about a tbsp.
8. Roast for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 190°C (375°F) for another 40-60 minutes or until the chicken is browned and the juices run clear.
9. Allow the chicken to rest, covered with foil, before carving.
10. Serve the stuffing along with a piece of the tender roasted meat: usually it is presented with a savoury yoghurt and a simple cucumber and tomato salad.
Mai is the editor, writer, cook, and grocery shopper behind the blog Almond & Fig. She grew up in Palestine, and now lives in Chicago with her husband and kids. You can follow her on Instagram at: @almondandfig