Grünkern pilaf makes for the perfect whole grain side dish – one that won’t bore you to death! I have seriously fallen in love with this grain. It’s damn tasty! And if you are not German, some of you may already be asking what is Grünkern? Grünkern is spelt that’s that been harvested while still young and green, and translated it literally means “green grain”. Originally, it was picked so young as to avoid heavy rain from destroying the crop. Then it was roasted and dried. Through this process farmers discovered how wonderfully delicious this early harvested grain could be. It has a fantastic nutty sweetness and smoked flavor, plus it trumps rice on nutritional value – a 100 g serving has 12 grams protein, 2.7 grams fatty acids, 9 grams fiber plus a whole host of essential minerals. This is what it looks like.
Grünkern is not Freekeh
Since Grünkern is produced in Southern Germany, the closest thing to it elsewhere would be the middle eastern grain freekeh (or frikeh). It’s been a staple in Middle Eastern diets for centuries and has recently made its way to popularity in other areas of the world. It also a smoked young green grain, but rather than produced from spelt, it’s made from durum wheat.
I was first introduced to Grünkern as a simple replacement for whole grain rice. Plain, boiled, served on the side. But really it is so much more than just a simple filler. Although it is delicious on its own, it has so much more potential – potential for greatness. Which is why I decided to create this rich and tasty Grünkern pilaf.
This recipe for Grünkern pilaf is a terrific accompaniment to roast lamb or chicken. I really love it with lamb merguez sausages. Although I don’t often eat meat, I am a real fan of this gutsy sausage and its terrific spicy mixture of paprika, cumin, chili, pepper and harissa, plus sumac, fennel and garlic — depending on the butchers own recipe. Just make sure to ask whether your butcher whether they make theirs from 100% lamb.
This Grünkern pilaf also holds up great as leftovers. Because my favorite Schwabe doesn’t often like leftovers, I ate this for three days in a row. The first day as a vegetarian side along with lentils and the next two days with merguez — especially loved it with the merguez. Wish I had more! :)
Grünkern Pilaf with Spinach & Chickpeas
Serves 6-8, as a side
Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
1/4 cup olive oil (80 ml)
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups Grünkern / Gruenkern (alternatively use freekeh) (300 g)
2 cups water (500 ml)
2/3 cups tomato passata (160 ml)
2 vine ripened tomatoes peeled, seeded and chopped
1 x 400 g can organic chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 teaspoons sumac
100 g baby spinach (about 4 generous handfuls)
sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
fresh chopped flat-leaf parsley, as garnish
1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 to 7 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.
2. Add the Grünkern and sauté with the onions, stirring often, for 5 minutes (toasting the grain, enhances its nutty flavor).
3. Add the water, passata and chopped tomatoes, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to a low simmer, cover and cook for 1 hour. Add the chickpeas and sumac, stir to combine, then stir in the spinach, cook until heated through and spinach is wilted, about 5 more minutes. Season with a generous amount of salt and pepper.
4. Garnish with parsley and serve.