Dajaj (chicken) Mahshi (stuffed) with Freekeh
Updated: Jun 19
Freekeh: pronounced free-keh in Arabic فريكه. Freekeh is one of the Middle East's famed ancient grains and staple pantry ingredient. The word "freekeh" comes from the Arabic word "farak" meaning "to rub," which is how farmers stripped away the burnt husk from the green grain before the use of machinery.
Freekeh grain is a young green wheat harvested in the spring time at its green stage, sun dried and flame roasted, then rubbed and cracked. Freekeh has a firm and chewy texture when cooked and has a distinct earthy taste and subtle smokiness from the fire roasting process.
I still recall the large sheets my grandmother designated for drying freekeh. She would buy bushels full of freshly harvested freekeh in the spring and sprinkle it all over the sheets in her veranda to dry out preserving it for the winter months and consumption through out the year. As kids we loved picking at her freekeh. When it’s at its green stage it’s so so good chewy and nutty. Then my grandmother would clean it again from any husks that might of been left behind. After the freekeh dries out my grandmother will reserve some for cracking. A method she did by hand cracking it between two large round stones that she whirled around until she got the consistency she wanted. It was defiantly a time consuming production. Practices like this have been replaced by machinery, although the stones are still at the corner of my grandmothers veranda. You can now find freekeh at most markets. You will often see two kinds of freekeh: whole grain often used for Pilafs and cracked often used in soups and stews.
Freekeh In the Arab world is commonly used in soups with chicken during the winter months and as a stuffing for meat and vegetables also as a pilaf served with nuts.
This dish of stuffed chicken with freekeh is so impressive and often served on weekends or when you are expecting company. It’s served on a large platter garnished with nuts and dried fruits making it a feast for the eyes. You could also use cut up chicken, lamb cutlets, or even stuff a whole leg of lamb.
Dajaj (chicken) mahshi (stuffed) with Freekeh
Let’s Start on the stuffing first:
1 pound freekeh. Picked over, rinsed few times and drained
4 cups chicken or beef stock or water
4 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cardamom
Few grates of fresh nutmeg
1 bay leaf
1 pound ground meat. (beef or lamb) adding minced meat is optional
In a heavy pot heat the oil, add the meat and sauté breaking it up with the wooden spoon. About 8-10 minutes until it’s browned. Add the cleaned freekeh, spices, bay leaf, and toss with the meat for 5 minutes until it’s slightly toasted. Add the stock or water and bring the mixture to boil adjusting the seasoning. Reduce the heat to simmer and cook for 40-60 minutes until all the liquid has absorbed and the freekeh is cooked through. The freekeh shouldn’t be crunchy but it needs to hold its shape, it’s naturally chewy and al Dante.
Fluff with a fork. Add the dried fruits and nuts and fluff gently to combine.
Set aside while we prep the chicken.
This recipe will yield to extra freekeh to serve on the side or later you can turn it into a grain bowl or mix leftovers in salads.
Nuts and dried fruits:
1/2 cup assorted dried fruits chopped into bite size pieces (I like to use apricots, figs, and currants or barberries)
1 cup assorted nuts (almonds, cashews, pine nuts, and pistachios are very common)
I like to toast the nuts in a dry skillet for a few minutes until they are fragrant and toasted a bit (if they burn they will be bitter) we are looking for a light toasty color.
If you are using an assortment of nuts please toast them separately as they have different oil content and cooking times.
Set aside to cool
One 3-5 pound chicken (pat dry with a paper towel)
3 tbls olive oil plus more for roasting
2 tsp all spice
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cardamom
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
Salt and pepper
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 425
In a small bowl Mix all the spices and olive oil together
Rub the spice mixture all over the chicken and inside the cavity
You can prep this step the night before (wrapped in plastic wrap) letting the spices and salt marinate the chicken. If I don’t have time feel i cook the chicken right away it’s not a problem).
Spoon the freekeh mixture into the cavity of the chicken. Cross the chicken legs and tie them with a twine.
Place the chicken In a roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil all over the top about a tbls per chicken
Roast for 20 minutes then reduce the heat to 375 for another 40 -60 minutes or until the chicken is browned and juices run clear.
Allow the chicken to rest covered with foil before carving.
Serve the stuffing along side a piece of the tender roasted meat
This dish is often served with a savory yogurt and a simple cucumber and tomatoes salad.
You can also use a Hashweh stuffing if you don’t want to use freekeh. Recipe on my blog
This method would work to stuff any other cut of meat like a leg of lamb or even vegetables like zucchini, eggplant and tomatoes..
Serve any extra freekeh stuffing on the side. Or it’s perfect made into a salad the next day