Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What The Heck Is Freekeh? Or "How To Find Ingredients When The Grocer Doesn't Know Them"

I'm not the only one who loves Nazar Market in Columbia.  Since the Turkish market opened this year, I have found myself a regular for meat, breads, snacks and lots of ingredients.  (Click here for all the Nazar posts.)

So has Kyle.  The regular HowChow contributor has been working through some Turkish food, and he finds -- as I have -- that the guys who sell ethnic groceries rarely actually cook with the ethnic groceries.  They're shopkeepers, not cooks.  But Kyle has kitchen skills, so he went from recipe to freekeh to pilaf:
Back in September, the Washington Post food section did a front-page article with back-page recipes on Turkish cooking. So I naturally thought of Nazar. Even though I already had a lot of Turkish ingredients, there were some I did not have. So off to Nazar I went with paper in hand. I wanted to make the Post's green wheat pilaf.
The recipe called for some unique ingredients:  freekeh, Aleppo pepper, red pepper paste and coarse bulgur. I already had Aleppo pepper from Penzeys (internet or trip to Rockville), which was good because Nazar didn't stock it.  It's slightly chewy and oily with a nice burn. I think the Maras pepper is the best substitute to be found at Nazar's.  Both Nazar and I have coarse bulgur (also known as bulgur #3 or #4), so my search was for red pepper paste and freekeh.
At Nazar, my usual guy wasn't working, but two new ones were. I told them I was looking for roasted green wheat, freekeh. You gotta love an ingredient that has "freak" in the name plus a smokey taste. First stumbling block: These Turkish guys had no idea what I was talking about.  I had to show them the recipe. They ended up recommending peeled wheat based on the picture. I was pretty sure that was wrong and picked up a bag labeled "firik bulgur (firik wheat)." They weren't sure what that was but again recommended the peeled wheat. They had no problem finding the red pepper paste. It's called "Biber Salcasi (mild pepper paste)."
When I got home, I looked up freekeh  and, lo and behold, the Turkish name for freekeh is firik. Apparently freekeh is the Arabic word -- a still more interesting than "firik." Back to Nazar I went later that week. My usual guy (I really should learn his name) was there, and I told him about my quest for freekeh aka firik. All he said was basically that he carries firik, people buy it, but he has no idea how you use it. I told him you make green wheat pilaf. He said that the Post was good for business since  he had three people buy red pepper paste in a single day.  They were making another recipe, green lentil soup with noodles and mint. Even though the Post recipes recommend Iranian markets, I had less luck at Pars Market down Snowden River Parkway.  I love the attitude of the guy who works there but they just don't have the variety of Nazar.
I guess Turkey is like America; one region may not know anything about ingredients in another region. Try looking for okra in New England. The green wheat pilaf was good. You could really taste the smoke. I didn't return the peeled wheat, I can make something  called noah's pudding with it. And you can make the green wheat pilaf recipe for yourself.


Sarah said...

That's an awesome story.

In the first few days of me studying abroad in Cairo, I needed a bottle of water. So I stopped by a store and asked for water-- "maa'." The guy didn't understand what I was saying. I knew this word! I know how to say water! I was so frustrated.

Turns out in the Egyptian dialect, water is "maya." I learned that one quickly.

Hungry for Turkish food said...

@Sarah - can you recommned an authentic Turkish restaurant in Howard County or near by? Thanks!