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Saffron Chicken with Freekeh: A Taste of Middle Eastern Comfort

Saffron Chicken with Freekeh is a delightful culinary blend that marries the rich, aromatic traditions of Iranian and Palestinian cuisines, creating a dish that is as nourishing as it is flavourful. This recipe brings together the tender, saffron-infused chicken, a cherished recipe from my grandmother’s Iranian kitchen, with the wholesome goodness of freekeh, a staple grain introduced to me by my Palestinian mother-in-law. Freekeh, known for its nutty taste and high nutritional value, provides a fantastic alternative to rice, enriching the dish with protein and fibre. This one-pot wonder, which I fondly associate with family and tradition, is not only a tribute to my heritage but also a cherished staple in our household. To add a final touch of indulgence and texture, I lavish the dish with a generous sprinkle of mixed nuts, enhancing its flavours and making it a true celebration of cultural fusion and gastronomic delight.

Basic Ingredients for Saffron Chicken with Freekeh

Saffron Chicken:

Whole Chicken Legs: The main protein source of the dish, providing a rich flavour and tender texture when cooked.

Freekeh: A type of ancient grain that adds a nutty flavour and chewy texture, offering a substantial base for the dish.

Onions: Essential for building the base flavour, adding sweetness and depth to the dish.

Cinnamon Stick and Cardamom Pods: These spices introduce warmth and a hint of sweetness, enhancing the overall flavour profile.

Olive Oil: Used for sautéing, it adds a subtle fruity flavour while being a healthier fat option.

Minced Ginger and Garlic: Both add a pungent and spicy note, contributing to the dish’s aromatic quality.

Ground Saffron: Provides a luxurious, subtle earthy flavor and a beautiful golden color.

Rose Water: Adds a floral note, bringing a unique Middle Eastern flavour to the dish.

Chicken Stock: Used as a cooking liquid, it adds more depth and richness than water alone.

Dry Rub:

Dry Rub (Cinnamon, 7-spice, Turmeric, Black Pepper, Salt): This blend adds complexity and warmth, enhancing the chicken’s flavour.

Mixed Nuts and Fresh Parsley (Garnish): Add texture, nuttiness, and a fresh herbal note to finish the dish.

alternative ingredients

Chicken Legs: Substitute with chicken thighs or breasts, adjusting cooking times accordingly.

Freekeh: Quinoa, bulgur, or brown rice can be used as alternatives, though the flavour profile will change.

Olive Oil: Can be replaced with another vegetable oil, though it may alter the flavour slightly.

Spices: If specific spices like saffron or cardamom are unavailable, experiment with a bit of turmeric or allspice to maintain the dish’s warmth, though the flavour will differ.

Chicken Stock: Vegetable broth can be a suitable substitute, especially for a vegetarian version.

Preparation Tips for Saffron Chicken with Freekeh

  • Freekeh Preparation: Rinse and soak freekeh properly to remove any impurities and reduce cooking time.
  • Dry Rub: Massage the chicken thoroughly with the rub to infuse flavours deeply.
  • Sautéing spices: Cooking the cinnamon stick and cardamom in oil helps release their aromatic oils, enhancing the dish’s flavour.

Serving Tips for Saffron Chicken with Freekeh

  • Serve the dish hot, garnished with nuts and parsley for a burst of flavour and a touch of elegance.
  • Accompany with a side of mint and cucumber yoghurt salad to add freshness and balance the dish’s richness.

storage tips

  • Allow the dish to cool completely before storing it in an airtight container.
  • Refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to a month. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and reheat gently to preserve the best texture and flavour.

Saffron Chicken with Freekeh

Servings: 8 persons
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes


Saffron Chicken

  • 8 skinless whole chicken legs
  • 2 cups freekeh
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 1 cinnamon pods
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp garlic, minced
  • pinch ground saffron
  • 1 tsp rose water
  • 3 cups chicken stock

Dry Rub

  • 1 tsp cinnamon powder
  • 1 tsp 7 spice powder
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • ½ tsp black pepper powder
  • 2 tsp salt


  • 1 cup mixed nuts
  • handful fresh parsley, roughly chopped


  • Soak the freekeh in water for about one hour, drain and keep aside.
  • Prepare a dry rub; combine cinnamon powder,7-spice powder, turmeric powder, black pepper powder and salt. Thoroughly wash and pat dry the chicken. Coat the chicken with the dry rub and leave to rest.
  • In a large shallow cast iron pot, sauté the onions, cinnamon stick and cardamom pods in some olive oil. Fry until the onions turn a translucent colour. Add the ginger, garlic and freekeh, and mix all ingredients together. Continue to stir until the freekeh is a slightly fragrant and toasted.
  • Layer the chicken over the freekeh mixture. Add the saffron and rose water to the chicken stock, and pour the liquid mixture over the freekeh and chicken. Bring to a boil, then cover and leave to simmer on low heat for about 40 minutes or until the freekeh is fully cooked.
  • Once the freekeh is cooked, remove the pot off the heat, garnish with chopped parsley and toasted nuts, and serve with a delicious side of mint and cucumber yogurt salad.

Did you make this recipe?

Tag @cookingwithzahra on Instagram and hashtag it #cookingwithzahra so we can see all the deliciousness!

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