Chicken Freekeh Skillet with Warm Feta-Lemon Relish
March is a tricky time of year for me, food-wise. By this point, I’m yearning for tender, mild spring vegetables and ready to say bye-for-now to hearty root veggies and brassicas, but the farmers markets are still pretty sparse. So as I wait for the season to fully turn over, I look for ways to bridge the gap between rib-sticking winter fare (it’s still chilly outside, after all) and lighter, fresher tastes. This easy whole-grain skillet hits that spot for me because it’s filling and satisfying, but the pops of fresh citrus make it bright and sunny, too.
I include whole grains in a lot of my weeknight dinners because, sure, they’re nutritious, but more importantly they have such amazing textures and flavors. And there are more options available now than ever, such as sorghum, amaranth, millet, rye berries, teff, and more—way beyond the more-familiar brown rice, wheat berries, and quinoa. In this dish, I’m using freekeh, which is a type of wheat; it’s harvested when it’s young and green and then roasted, which gives it a smoky flavor. I opt for cracked freekeh because it cooks quickly. If you can’t find it, you can substitute bulgur, which is also cracked wheat (just not roasted).
Another quick-cooking staple in my kitchen is boneless, skinless chicken thighs. They’re always meaty and juicy and nearly impossible to overcook. I sear them first, then nestle them into the half-cooked freekeh to finish cooking under a layer of lemon slices to cut through their richness.
My favorite part of this dish, though, is the relish. It’s garlicky, a little spicy, herby, and full of surprises. First, it includes firm feta cheese that gently warms to the point that it becomes soft and almost gooey—which is the way I always want feta from now on. The relish also gets a brazen hit of citrus from chopped lemon sections, which offer tart, juicy bursts that are way more forward than lemon juice would be. The effect is an unsubtle finishing touch that balances out the nutty grains and meaty chicken.
It’s an almost complete meal that my whole family loves, and it’s done from start to finish in just 35 minutes. I’ll serve a simple vegetable on the side—usually blanched broccoli or haricots verts tossed with browned butter—and daydream of sunnier days to come.