Wednesday, November 30, 2016

An Autumn Freekeh Pilaf

As dinner approached one day this past weekend I realized that all I had in the house in the way of fresh vegetables was a bunch of (beautiful) Red Russian kale from what turned out to be my last visit of the year to the farmers' market.  (I admit some point the offerings at the fall market just become too sparse to motivate me to get out of bed on a cold and dark Saturday morning....)  Besides wanting to use the kale, I also wanted something simple...and not too rich (after all the holiday feasting).  And even though my options seemed limited, I really didn't want to give in and go out to eat.  As I was thinking about all this I happened to run across a blog post from last spring that featured a freekeh pilaf with Red Russian kale.  And as I looked at the recipe, I saw that a few simple changes could turn it into a satisfying, autumnal dish.

The original recipe includes blanched peas.  Of course, I could have pulled frozen peas out of my freezer and made the dish pretty much as written.  But I really did want something more in keeping with the season.  So instead I decided to dice and roast some of the sweet potatoes I always keep on hand during the colder months (winter squash would have worked too).  From there the rest fell into place.  Sweet potatoes (and the recent holiday) put me in mind of I substituted dried cranberries for the golden raisins.  Walnuts seemed an obvious change from the pine nuts (pecans would have been good too).  And finally...I used parsley instead of mint.  Mint would have been great, but the mint in my garden is gone...and I had some beautiful parsley from that last visit to the market.

But it wouldn't have really have mattered if I had had the spring version of this recipe to refer to or not.  Both versions are just dressed up grain pilafs.  If you know how to make a basic grain pilaf, you can make a few judicious choices concerning the actual ingredients (like those I outlined above)...and a dish like this pretty much drops into place. 

The fall version of this pilaf was delicious...I may even like it better than the spring version.  If you like grain pilafs, I encourage you to try it.  But mostly—as with everything I post—I hope today's post will inspire you to cook...even on a night when your ingredients don't seem very promising (which probably happens a lot during this busiest time of the year).  If you apply what you know how to what you already have on might just end up with something that tastes really good.

Leftovers made a delicious lunch...

Freekeh Pilaf with Russian Kale, Sweet Potatoes,
Dried Cranberries & Walnuts

1 medium sweet potato (about 10 oz.), peeled and cut into a 1/2-inch dice

2 1/2 T. olive oil, extra to finish
salt and black pepper
1 bunch Red Russian Kale, tough ribs removed and washed in several changes of water
1 small red onion (4 to 5 oz.), finely diced
1 1/2 T. unsalted butter
2/3 cup (100g) cracked freekeh, rinsed
a generous 1/8 t. ground cinnamon
a generous 1/8 t.. ground allspice
3/4 c. chicken stock, vegetable stock or water
1/4 c. dried cranberries
1 small clove of garlic, minced
pinch of hot pepper flakes
3 to 4 T. roughly cut Italian flat leaf parsley
1/3 c. walnuts, toasted and coarsely crumbled
3 to 4 T. Labneh

Toss the sweet potatoes with a tablespoon of olive oil and salt & pepper to taste.  Spread on a baking sheet and transfer to a preheated 400° oven.  Roast until tender and lightly caramelized, stirring once—about 25 to 30 minutes. Set aside

Drop the kale into a large pot of boiling salted water and cook until tender. Drain and spread on a baking sheet. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out the excess liquid one handful at a time. Roughly chop and set aside.

Melt the butter and 1/2 T. of the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot set over medium heat. Add the onions and stir to coat in the fat. Sweat—stirring occasionally—until the onion is soft and translucent and just beginning to caramelize around the edges...about 5 to 10 minutes. Increase the heat to medium high and add the drained freekeh along with the spices and a generous pinch of salt. Continue to cook for a minute until the grains are coated in the oil and sizzling in the hot oil. Add the stock or water and bring to a full boil. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cook, covered until the freekeh is tender—20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the heat and scatter the dried cranberries over the surface of the freekeh. Cover and let rest for 5 minutes.

While the freekeh rests, heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a wide sauté pan set over medium heat. Add the garlic and pepper flakes and cook until the garlic begins to sizzle and is fragrant. Add the kale, season with salt and continue to cook and stir until the kale is hot through. 
Transfer the freekeh and craisins to a large bowl. Add the warm kale followed by the parsley, sweet potatoes and walnuts.  Toss until everything is well combined.  Serve with a dollop of labneh and a drizzle of olive oil if you like. Serves 2 generously as an entrée. 

Note: Recipe is easily multiplied.

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