Freaky Tabouli: Freekeh Salad, Roasted Acorn Squash, and Ajvar
For the Freekeh Salad:
Combine a 2:1 ratio of water to freekeh, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for about 15 minutes. The grains should just reach tenderness, but mushiness should be avoided. Strain the freekeh in a fine-meshed colander, and run chilly water over it to get closer to room temperature. Cool in the refrigerator.
Dress the chilled freekeh with olive oil, parsley, mint, green onions, basil, and a scant sprinkle of thyme, rosemary, savory, or fennel tops. (Filé powder can also work a little mojo accent.) Lightly season with salt and stir in barberries.
For the Roasted Acorn Squash:
Preheat oven to 400ºF. Cut the squash in strips resembling French fries. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle with oil, and roast until tender. Cool until service.
For the Ajvar:
Preheat oven to 400ºF. Roast the eggplant in the oven until very soft, usually around 35 to 45 minutes. When cool enough to handle, scrape out the flesh and discard the skin. If the eggplant seems a little wet, let it drain on a plate giving it a gentle squeeze. Combine the garlic, peppers, chili powder, and eggplant flesh in a food processor. Start the machine and slowly add olive oil. Pulse until combined. (Ajvar should be thick and maintain its shape when smeared on a plate.)
To Assemble and Serve
Gently warm the Roasted Acorn Squash. Smear the Ajvar, from 8 o’clock to 11 o’clock, in one corner of the plate. Spoon the Freekeh Salad in the center of the plate and cover with 2 to 3 slices of Roasted Acorn Squash. Sprinkle the salad with toasted pistachios and dress with olive oil. Arrange olives and salad greens around the salad.
* Persian barberries are super tiny with a subtle burst of sour cranberry and cherry flavor. Barberries are best used pretty fast, as they are so small that it's important to use them while they are chewy and full of high impact flavor.
**Ajvar is a condiment from the Caucasian Mountain region from Armenia, Turkey, and Chechnya, but it spread and intermingled with other red pepper purées from the Black Sea to the Eastern Mediterranean and all the way down to the Slavic Adriatic shores.