May 22, 2014 at 3:53 pm

Simply the Best

'Ancient' grain freekah the hottest new dish

Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers are a great way to use freekah. (Freekah Foods)

The backyard barbecue season season begins now and, I dont know about you, but l look forward to grilling (make that to my husband grilling) in the months ahead. Throwing some protein on the grill top doesnt take a lot of planning, but coming up with some sides worthy of that perfectly grilled steak or chicken breast can grow tiresome.

We like grains at our house, and couscous (the larger pearled Mediterranean couscous variety) is a favorite. Then I discovered freekah and suddenly the grains options began to swell (thats a little grain humor).

Freekah is a new ancient grain rising in popularity. Quite simply, freekeh is young green wheat that has been toasted and cracked. Its a healthy whole-grain food, much like bulgur wheat and other whole grains, and even though its been around for centuries, its enjoying a resurgence the past few years, thanks to a 2010 segment on Oprah. The beauty of freekah is that its rich in fiber and protein (a serving contains 6 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber) and is only 130 calories. It can be used just like rice or quinoa as a side dish or vegetarian entree, and its delicious.

One brand, Freekah, is grown in the U.S. and is available in 8-ounce packages (about $4.99) in Original, Tamari and Rosemary Sage flavors, and can be found in grocery stores around the country and online on Amazon and Freekeh-Foods.com. I also found another brand of freekah at Costco.

Stuffed peppers take a little longer to prepare, but theyre worth it. They can be frozen individually, so they make a great grab-and-go lunch. If you have any of the stuffed pepper filling left, toss it in a whole wheat wrap or on top of some greens for a Mexican salad. Its freaking delicious.

Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers

4-6 sweet peppers, sliced in half and seeds removed
2 cups water or vegetable broth
1 8-ounce package cracked freekeh (1 cup) (use Original, Tamari or Rosemary Sage variety)
1 15-ounce can Aduki beans or pinto beans
1 12-ounce jar of your favorite salsa
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 small onion, diced
6-8 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 limes, juiced
bunch of fresh cilantro
1 cups corn, fresh or frozen, thawed
2 cups grape tomatoes, sliced in half
Salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
Low-fat pepper jack cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add about 2 inches of water to a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and add in the sweet peppers. Cover and cook for about 4-5 minutes until theyre slightly soft. Remove peppers from pot and set aside to cool.

Prepare the stuffing: Pour 2 cups water and the freekeh in a saucepan and bring to a boil for about a minute. Reduce heat to medium. Stir in tomato paste, onion and garlic. Cover and simmer for about 25 minutes until the freekeh is tender. In a large bowl, add freekeh and all ingredients except the steamed peppers, stir and set aside.

Place the peppers in a 9- by 12-inch casserole dish. With a large spoon, carefully fill the peppers. The contents can come up above the edge of the pepper. Pour about inch of water in the dish and place in preheated oven. Bake for about 30 minutes.

Sprinkle grated low-fat pepper jack cheese (if using) on top of the peppers after 20 minutes and continue to bake 10 minutes more. Serves 6.

Per serving (without cheese): 249 calories; 2 g fat (0.1 g saturated fat; 7 percent calories from fat); 54 g carbohydrates; 9 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 298 mg sodium; 11 g protein; 10 g fiber.

KLawson@detroitnews.com