Freekeh Salad with Zucchini, Green Olives and Walnuts

Freekeh Salad with Zucchini, Green Olives and Walnuts | A Sweet Spoonful
January is a month of contradictions, from the highs of New Years Eve and the momentum of fresh starts and cleaner closets to the reality of dark winter days filled with putting away holiday decorations and getting tax paperwork ready. There’s a noticeable lack of sugary cookies and far fewer twinkling lights. And during this month, I always find that my cooking becomes much more basic and stripped down, not for any of the more popular reasons (diets and cleanses), but more because I often look to our pantry to start really using up what we have on hand and trying to find vegetables that I’m inspired by at the farmers market. Lately we’ve been cooking up crisp fennel to add to wild rice or grain dishes, sautéing lots of mushrooms, and roasting potatoes. We’ve got red cabbage in the refrigerator and slice it thinly to make fish tacos once or twice a week, and hearty greens are always in heavy rotation. It’s not as colorful as spring and summer produce, and sometimes it feels much more dutiful, but that’s January for you: a month of pokes and prods to keep on your toes in the kitchen. Or, alternatively, to just sit down — which is really nice, too. This recipe combines both of those sentiments: it uses a wonderful grain you may not be familiar with, but beyond that it’s a very simple and satisfying recipe that won’t take much time out of your short day and will leave you feel energized and ready to look ahead.

January in Seattle | A Sweet Spoonful

For me, January is also a time to think about the upcoming year as a whole, not just in the kitchen. Each New Year’s Day, Sam and I go to The Wandering Goose, one of our favorite cafes in town and sit down over biscuits and coffee to talk about what we’d like to focus on, accomplish or dream about. We don’t call these resolutions — they’re more like a list of what excites us when we look ahead. I didn’t realize that Sam had kept last year’s list in the same book, so when we finished talking about 2015, he flipped back and we went through our hopes last year to see what we accomplished and compared how similar or different our sentiments were. The differences between what I hoped for last year and what I hope for this year were remarkably different.

Freekeh \ A Sweet Spoonful

This year, a few of the things on my list involve: trying to buy our first house, learning to sew clothing and get better at sewing quilts, getting better at baking bread, traveling to New Orleans for the first time, growing my first tomato, reading more, hiking more. Last year, my list looked much more like: gain 20 new vendors for Marge, work on new organic certifications for Marge, research doing food and gift shows, work on new seasonal gift sets, set up a granola subscription service. Apparently this year I’m ready to not focus solely on work. That feeling of work fatigue has certainly come before, but it’s often met with guilt and anxiety as I tend to be someone who isn’t great at letting go of the reigns (Sam calls me his little do-er). But something’s changed this year: there’s actually no guilt, and immense satisfaction when I spend a weekend afternoon on the couch reading or walking with a friend around the lake instead of focusing on work tasks. I’ve even been taking shorter work days to try to go to a favorite exercise class or make something more interesting for dinner. 2015, I like you already.

Freekeh Salad with Zucchini, Green Olives and Walnuts | A Sweet Spoonful

Something slow and steady happens when you find yourself focusing solely on work and letting other things slide away that make you really happy — I think you often don’t realize they’re gone until you look around and think about how long it’s been since you’ve seen a few of your dear friends, or how many weeks (and weeks … and weeks) have passed before you actually finish a book. So I’m  not going to let that happen this year. I’m hoping to see more people, read more books, close the computer more. The question of how to balance work and having a family often comes up in the media these days, especially for working moms. While that’s an entirely different blog post, I will say that I really do feel the same tugs and questions when trying to balance work and simply … having a life. I suppose these are the restraints of owning your own small business, but I’m resolving (yes, resolving!) to strive a little less fiercely with it this year. And strive more for sunset walks like the one below taken a few days ago while catching up with a friend.

January in Seattle | A Sweet Spoonful

So now let’s talk about food to sustain us through this long month: freekeh (free-kah). If this grain is new to you, freekah is young (still green) wheat that’s harvested, then dried out in the sun and roasted. It’s nubby and looks much like bulgur wheat in appearance, but has a really earthy, nutty flavor and a delightful chewy texture. You can buy freekeh in whole grain form or cracked, and in its cracked form — as you’ll see below —  it’s relatively quick cooking (15 to 20 minutes or so). This makes it super versatile;  you can use it in everything from breakfast porridge to dinner pilafs.

Freekeh Salad with Zucchini, Green Olives and Walnuts

Sam thinks this salad feels much like a wintry, loaded tabbouli and he’s right in the sense that there’s a generous hit of parsley for color and texture. I love the marriage of the toasty walnuts with the slightly smoky flavor of the freekeh — and the salty green olives, lemony vinaigrette and tender zucchini make this salad truly come alive with different flavors and textures. I prefer to serve it room temperature or warm, not cold; it’s best to let all the flavors marry and mingle, and if it’s served right out of the refrigerator, it just doesn’t taste as good. That being said, it’s great stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days if you have leftovers.

Freekeh is still not as easily found as some more popular whole grains; I found a bag at our local Whole Foods and I’ve also bought it online. I’ve tried both Freekehlicious and Freekeh Foods brand, and both are great. If you just can’t find it in your city, you can certainly swap in another chewy, hearty grain like farro, wheat berries or buckwheat groats. Remember, we’re talking ease and less stress here for January, so do as you please with this salad; I’d love to hear if you use any different grains or vegetables that you’re excited about.

Quick side note for those of you in the Seattle area: I’ll be giving an author talk at the Everett Public Library this Saturday, 1/24 at 10:30 a.m. There will be treats from my cookbook as well as an awesome used cookbook swap; I think it’ll be a really sweet morning and I’d love to see you there.

Freekeh Salad with Zucchini, Green Olives and Walnuts

Freekeh Salad with Zucchini, Green Olives and Walnuts

  • Yield: 4-6 servings
  • Prep time: 30 mins
  • Cook time: 25 mins
  • Total time: 55 mins


For Freekeh Salad:

1 cup cracked freekeh
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 medium zucchini, diced into small cubes
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to season
I/2 small leek, very thinly sliced (about 1/3 cup)
1/2 cup toastedwalnut halves, roughly chopped
1/2 cup pitted and sliced green olives
1 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh snipped dill (or 1 teaspoon dried dill)
black pepper, to season

For Lemon-Parmesan Vinaigrette:

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 medium shallot, finely diced (about ¼ cup)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt


Rinse freekeh in a colander. Bring a medium pot of water to boil and add the freekeh. Bring the water back up to a boil, then cover the pot and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 15 to 18 minutes, or until the grains are tender (but will remain chewy as is their nature). Drain any excess water and set aside.

In a skillet heat the oil over medium heat. Stir in the garlic and cook for just a few minutes, or until it starts to very lightly brown. Fold in the zucchini and the salt, and stir well. Push the zucchini around the pan so the cubes are in as much of a single layer as possible. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook until the zucchini browns evenly, about 8-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the dressing: whisk the lemon juice and shallot together in a small bowl and set aside for 10 minutes.  Then whisk in the olive oil, vinegar, Parmesan and salt.

In a large serving bowl, toss together the cooked freekeh, sautéed zucchini, leek, toasted walnuts, green olives, parsley and dill. Dress the salad, taste and season with additional salt and black pepper, as needed.


  1. Mary

    This sounds amazing. I haven't used freekah yet, but have been wanting to try it. Will definitely pick some up this week to give this recipe a try. Thanks :)

  2. Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar

    I love how much texture this salad looks like it has! And it's definitely full of a bunch of lovely ingredients. Yum!

  3. mimi

    Love this salad!!! The addition of the olives is fantastic.!!! Congrats on your cookbook as well.

  4. kristie {birch and wild}

    I just love your posts. Yours is one of the blogs that I look forward to reading over a cup of herbal tea. Thank you for being an inspiration :)
    I have never tried freekah, but I am super interested in finding it now.

  5. nipponnin

    Nice blog post! Interesting dish and sounds very healthy! Love your sunset photo also.

  6. Suzanne

    I made your Freekeh Salad tonight and the combination of flavors is just fantastic. It takes a bit of prep time but is so worth it. It makes a lot so it will last a few evenings as a main dish.

    1. megang

      So glad you enjoyed it, Suzanne! We loved it, too, and I'm looking forward to making it again. ~Megan

  7. brittney

    I made this with delicata squash instead of zucchini and it's fantastic. Next time I'll make a double batch. I also made a kamut and carrot salad and a spelt salad with pickled radishes, peas and feta. Having fun with whole-grains! :)

    1. megang

      Brittney: You're on fire! Your version sounds great and the spelt salad with pickled radishes: YES. So glad you're getting into experimenting with different grains (good thing to do on these rainy days we're having). ~Megan

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