Freekeh and Pearl Couscous with Butternut Squash and Preserved Lemon

I was a little worried to try this dish for our debut at Eat Local for the Globe, Findlay Market’s annual fundraiser. I didn’t want to be pigeon-holed as the “healthy” table among the barbeque and pork chops. While sometimes I do worry about my fair city’s relationship to comfort food, the fact that it was healthy-ish was a happy accident (I was going to make fried cheese but I couldn’t get the logistics to work out). I wanted to make something distinctly Mediterranean, feature a product that was well known and widely enjoyed (preserved lemons), alongside a product that was less familiar, but interesting and delicious (freekeh).

Ask anyone from Lebanon about how to cook freekeh properly, and their eyes will get sort of water-y while they talk about winter mornings in the mountains, or warm soups their grandmother made. It is a kind of comfort food, and it happens to be extremely nourishing and nutritious. While it is not gluten-free, it is essentially “baby” wheat, picked completely green and then roasted, imparting a wonderful smokey flavor. Because it is picked when it is young, it is packed with protein, vitamins and minerals.

Eat Local for the Globe is really a dreamy event, and kudos to The Corporation for Findlay Market for putting it on. It has the feel of the nicest wedding you’ve ever been to, in a gorgeous place, with minimal but elegant accoutrements done by Justin at Zinzinnati, and packed with people full of warm hearts and fuzzy feelings for this little corner of Over the Rhine.

 

Eat Local for the Globe 1 Eat Local for the Globe 2 Eat Local 3 Eat Local 4

A million thanks to Vicky Tewes at Thistlehair Farm for the butternut squash,my bff and former Senate staff Marissa Geiger, and my wifey Karen Zaino for all their wonderful help.

Freekeh and Pearl Couscous with Butternut Squash and Preserved Lemon Yogurt

(adapted from Gourmet Magazine)

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pound butternut squash, peeled and seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 cup Israeli couscous or Maftoul (Palestinian couscous…it’s exactly the same thing)
  • 1 1/2 cup Freekeh
  • 3 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
  • 1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup almonds, toasted
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Greek Yogurt Topping

  • 1 16oz container Mediterranean Imports Greek Yogurt (we make it ourselves!)
  • 3 preserved lemons chopped finely or pureed in a food processor

Combine

Preparation

Preheat oven to 475°F.

Toss squash with 1 tablespoon oil and salt to taste in a large shallow baking pan and spread in 1 layer. Roast in upper third of oven 15 minutes, or until squash is just tender, and transfer to a large bowl.

Cook onion in 1 tablespoon oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to turn golden. Add to squash.

Cook couscous with cinnamon stick in a large pot of boiling salted water 10 minutes, or until just tender, and drain in a colander (do not rinse). Add couscous to vegetables and toss with 2 tablespoon oil to coat.

Cook freekeh seperately, in vegetable broth, for 7-10 minutes. If necessary, drain in a colander.

Add  parsley, nuts, raisins, ground cinnamon, and salt to taste. Toss to mix well.

 

Beginnings

Here is the long and short of it: two years ago, I moved back to my hometown of Cincinnati to be closer to my family after 10 years of living on the East Coast. I had a good job in the field I went to college for, a serious girlfriend, and a vibrant community life as an activist in Philadelphia.

On the worst day of my life, I found out that my dad, owner of a sweet little shop in Findlay Market, had a serious and likely terminal form of cancer.  I moved back to Ohio with no regrets and no questions.

On the best day of my life, I found out that my dad’s cancer went into remission. It was too late to turn back…the house was bought, the plans were made. Anxious hugs were already doled out to old friends and our kitties were groomed, nails clipped and ready for the long trip. We left that big city in favor of something a little more nourishing, a little more interesting.
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