Jewelled cauliflower freekeh pilao

by Celia Brooks

A fragrant, north Indian-inspired dish, using freekeh rather than rice

Freekeh is substituted for wholegrain rice in this beautifully fragrant north Indian-inspired dish. The “jewels” are the whole spices, the sultanas, and the optional sesame, coconut and pomegranate garnishes, which give it a stunning finish. The earthy cauliflower fuses very happily with this posse of dazzling flavours. 


250g freekeh
2 tbsp virgin rapeseed or sunflower oil
1 medium onion, chopped
½ tsp cumin seed
12 whole cardamom pods
4 cloves
8-10 curry leaves, or 2 bay leaves
4cm piece of cinnamon stick or a few shards of cassia bark
500g cauliflower, cut or broken into bite-sized pieces
2 tsp sea salt, or to taste
3 tbsp yellow sultanas (or regular)
1 large pinch of saffron (about 50 strands)
650ml water

For the optional garnish:
1 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tbsp unsweetened desiccated coconut
1 handful of fresh pomegranate seeds


Soak the freekeh in cold water for 30 mins, then drain thoroughly.

Heat a large lidded pan over a moderate flame and add oil. Cook the onion until translucent, then add the spices (except the saffron). Cook until fragrant, about 1 min, then add the cauliflower and salt and stir. Cover and let the cauliflower release some of its juices for about 5 mins, stirring once or twice.

Now add the drained freekeh and sultanas and stir for 1 min. Add the saffron and water, stir, cover and bring to the boil. The mixture should be just barely submerged in water; if not, add a little more. Simmer, covered, without stirring, for 20 mins, or until all the water is absorbed and every grain of freekeh is tender. Check from time to time that it has not dried out completely underneath—add a splash more water if necessary and cook until absorbed.

To make the optional garnish, toast the sesame seeds and coconut in a dry frying pan over a moderate flame until the sesame seeds pop and everything turns golden. Sprinkle over the cooked pilao.

Recipe: Celia Brooks