When I was on Martha Stewart radio a few weeks ago, chatting away with my old pal Sandy Gluck, editor of Everyday Food, a woman called in asking what to do with frika. I almost fell off the chair.
Frika is a pretty esoteric grain in these parts although it’s widely known in the Middle East and in Germany, where it’s called gruenkern.
When I told him about this incident, my Sweetie, who is as knowledgeable about the products in Trader Joe’s as the men who shelve them, reminded me that he’d brought me a ready-to-eat vacuum-sealed packet of TJ’s green spelt a while back. I must have put that packet in a very safe place because I can’t find it, but I imagine it’s that very TJ packet that provoked the radio query.
Frika (variously transliterated from Arabic as faraykee and freka) is unripened (therefore green) spelt that is harvested in its immature state by burning away the leaves, stems, and chaff to leave the kernels with a delightfully mild, smoky flavor–a little reminiscent of Lapsang souchong tea.
There are numerous theories about the origin of this odd procedure. One is that the method was discovered by accident when a field of immature spelt caught fire and the roasted grains were found to be delicious. Another is that to save the crop from being destroyed by hail, it was harvested early and quickly dried over an open fire for storage.
I had a surprising adventure with frika when I was in Portland a few summers ago. The Sweetie and I went to Higgins for lunch since I’d heard Chef Greg Higgins was committed to using regional, seasonal produce. I introduced myself as the author of WHOLE GRAINS EVERY DAY, EVERY WAY and before I had the napkin on my lap, a grain salad was placed before me. I tasted it, looked up toward the kitchen, and caught the sous-chef’s eye in shocked delight. What was frika doing in Portland?
Turns out that a farmer named Anthony Boutard and his wife Carol grow spelt on Ayers Creek Farm in nearby Gaston, Oregon. They produce a limited supply of frika every year to sell at the local farmer’s market and to select area restaurants–which is how it ended up on my plate at Higgins.
The Sweetie and I went to meet the Boutards and had an inspection of the very fields where the frika was grown and burned, but alas, at that time there was no frika left. Typical of the generosity of farmers, not only did the Boutards serve us a delicious lunch of oven-baked polenta cooked from their own corn, but sent me a large package of frika in the fall. I am feasting on it in soups, stews, and salads. Unfortunately, the Boutards don’t have enough frika to sell to my readers, but it is often available from www.kalustyans.com or www.germandeli.com.
Frika cooks quickly–in about 20 minutes–and is well worth trying.
PHOTOS COPYRIGHT MICHAEL STEINMAN, 2009