Freekeh is notorious for taking longer to cook than it says on the packet, so if time is of the essence choose cracked freekeh, which cooks more quickly and actually absorbs more flavours.
Personally, I prefer the wholegrain, but it takes more than twice as long to cook and requires a lot more water or stock. But then, it gives you time to properly hang the yoghurt to drain and become labne, rather than using the cheat’s method in the tips below. Always a bright side.
200g natural pot-set yoghurt
2 eggplants, chopped into 2cm pieces
60ml (1⁄4 cup) extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
200g cracked freekeh
1 fresh or dried bay leaf
1⁄2 cinnamon stick
1 tsp sea salt
4 spring onions, white and dark green parts finely chopped
seeds of 1 pomegranate
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, half the leaves finely chopped, the rest left whole
1⁄2 bunch mint, larger leaves finely chopped, smaller leaves left whole
2 tbsp raw pistachio kernels, chopped
freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp tahini
juice of 1⁄2 lemon, plus extra wedges
40g (1⁄4 cup) sunflower seeds
1 tsp sumac (or use lemon zest if you can’t find this ground lemony berry)
4cm knob of ginger, peeled and very finely chopped
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
juice of 1 lemon
juice and finely grated zest of 1⁄2 orange
1-1⁄2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Start making the labne the day before you want to eat the salad. Line a fine sieve with a double layer of muslin or a Chux and place over a bowl. Spoon the yoghurt into the muslin or Chux and tie the corners to enclose. Place in the fridge to drain overnight.
Preheat the oven to 210C/190C fan-forced. Line a large baking tray with baking paper.
Spread the eggplant over the prepared tray, drizzle with the oil and sprinkle with the cumin. Toss to combine. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden.
Meanwhile, place the freekeh in a sieve and rinse well under cold running water. Transfer to a medium saucepan and add the bay leaf, cinnamon stick, salt and 580ml (2-1⁄3 cups) water.
Bring to the boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer, covered, for 12–15 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed and the freekeh is tender. Spread out over a large baking tray and let it cool slightly. Amazingly, this will give you just enough time to make the dressing!
To make the dressing, whisk the ingredients in a small bowl, seasoning with the salt and pepper.
Place the warm freekeh in a large bowl, pour over the dressing and toss to combine. Set aside to cool completely.
Add the eggplant, spring onion, pomegranate seeds, chopped parsley and mint and pistachios to the cooled freekeh and toss lightly to combine. Season.
Whisk the tahini, lemon juice and 1 tablespoon warm water in a bowl. Stir in the labne.
Place the freekeh salad on a serving platter and sprinkle over the sunflower seeds. Top with dollops of the labne mixture, then sprinkle sumac over the labne. Garnish with the remaining mint and parsley leaves and serve with lemon wedges.
To make speedy cheat’s labne, you simply need to squeeze out the whey from the yoghurt. The easiest way to do this quickly is to place the yoghurt in a clean piece of doubled-up muslin or a Chux, twist up the edges and squeeze against paper towel to wring out the whey. When it comes to mixing in the tahini, be sparing when adding the water as this version leaves a wetter labne.