Whole grains add heft to summer salads

Matt Spector of Zoftig in Santa Rosa shares his secret to healthy salads: whole grains.|

Ancient, whole grains such as barley, farro and quinoa are making a modern-day comeback among healthy Americans, who are adding them to their plates in order to boost the fiber and protein in their diet, feel full longer, lose weight and ward off disease.

In order to qualify as a whole grain, a kernel must have all three of its parts intact - the fiber-rich coating of bran, the starchy endosperm inside the bran and the small reproductive kernel known as the germ.

“The word is out that a significant portion of the phytonutrients and phytochemicals in grains are located in the bran and germ, the parts we don’t eat when we choose white bread made from refined flour instead of brown bread made from whole grains,” Lorna Sass writes in her 2006 cookbook, “Whole Grains.”

In the book, Sass cites several studies showing that a high intake of whole grains can lower the risk of heart disease, stroke and obesity as well as type 2 diabetes.

Whole grains are also a tasty way to add flavor and a nice chew to summer salads made with tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and salad greens fresh off the farm this summer.

At Zoftig in Santa Rosa, chef/owner Matt Spector offers a healthy lunch menu of house-roasted meat sandwiches - no processed meats - along with several bowls and salads bulked up by whole grains. The chef, who lives with his family in Santa Rosa, noticed that it was hard to find healthy but hearty salads around town, unless you dined at the salad bar at an upscale grocery store.

“You go to the gym, and you’re feeling good about yourself,” Spector said. “Where do you go to eat well and keep going with your day? I wanted to strike a balance between eating healthy and eating well. You can do a little of everything here.”

The chef uses only organic whole grains - Lundberg Farms brown rice, semi-pearled farro from Italy and white quinoa from Peru - in his salads as well as in his Korean burrito, one of his most popular wraps.

Zoftig, which opened in March, recently started serving healthy breakfasts as well, with choices ranging from yogurt parfaits and oatmeal bowls to egg and veggie scrambles and wraps. His wife, Sonjia, bakes fresh scones and other tasty pastries.

“It’s similar to the pre-packaged food from coffee shops, only we’re making it,” Spector said. “It’s all fresh stuff, and you can get it to go.”

The lunch and breakfast cafe, located in the Creekside Center between Rosso Pizzeria and Goguette Bakery, doesn’t serve any French fries - at all. In fact, you won’t find a fryer anywhere in the kitchen.

For the Maccabi Bowl - similar to a Middle Eastern meze plate, featuring housemade hummus, smoky baba ganoush and an earthy beet dip with whole-wheat chips, olives and tabouleh - the chef makes his own falafel and fries it in a pan.

Instead of the usual bulgur, however, the tabbouleh is made with Italian farro, mixed together with the traditional blend of cucumber, herbs, parsley, green onions, olive oil and vinegar.

Farro has a roasted, nutty flavor and a chewy texture. In Italian, it means “emmer wheat,” an ancient strain of hard wheat that was one of the first crops domesticated in the Fertile Crescent. Spector uses semi-pearled farro, which is what most U.S. grocery stores carry in the bulk bins because it cooks up quicker. The pearled version is white and cooks even faster but offers less fiber, which is the whole point of eating whole grains.

For his Poke Bowl, Spector scoops up a mound of steamed brown rice and uses it as the foundation for a tasty range of toppings, including salad greens, roasted sweet potatoes, edamame, prepared seaweed salad, cucumbers and marinated ahi tuna garnished with furikake and tobiko (flying fish roe.) The Hawaiian-inspired bowl is finished with a simple dressing of rice vinegar, lemon juice, soy and ginger.

Brown rice comes in many of the same categories as white rice, including brown basmati, brown jasmine and long-, medium- and short-grain brown rice. The brown basmati rice is best for Asian-inspired dishes, while the chewier, short-grain brown rice holds up better in salads.

At Zoftig, Spector also serves a Greek-inspired dish called the Hanna Salad as a tribute to his childhood in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, where there was a Greek diner on every corner.

“It’s named after my mom,” he said. “She wasn’t a very good cook, but she always made a good Greek salad.”

Instead of romaine, Spector uses a mix of baby arugula and kale, then tosses in some cooked, white quinoa with the fresh salad greens. The usual accompaniments - tomatoes, olives, cucumbers, roasted red peppers and chickpeas - round out this light but protein-packed salad.

“Quinoa is a complete protein, and the arugula and kale are a little heartier,” he said. “I use a tahini vinaigrette.”

Known to the Incas as the “mother grain,” quinoa is extremely user-friendly and versatile in the kitchen. It cooks in under 15 minutes, has a light, fluffy texture and is easy to digest. It has a slightly sweet, herbal taste and comes mostly from Ecuador (white quinoa) and Bolivia (red and black quinoa.)

When you’re buying fresh whole grains, Sass advises storing them in tightly sealed containers in the fridge or freezer and using them within six months, as they can go rancid. You should smell them before buying, to make sure they smell sweet.

The following recipes are from Matt Spector, chef/owner of Zoftig in Santa Rosa. The Hanna is his twist on the classic Greek salad.

Hanna Salad

Makes 4 to 6 servings

For quinoa:

1 cup quinoa

For dressing:

3 tablespoons tahini

1 lemon, juied

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon champagne vinegar

- Water

For salad:

3-4 cups baby arugula

3-4 cups baby kale

1 red pepper, roasted and diced

1/4 cup pitted olives

1 14.5-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 large heirloom tomato, diced

For salad: In a small pot, bring 2 cups water to a boil. Add quinoa with a pinch of salt. Bring back to a boil, cover and turn flame down to let simmer until liquid is absorbed (about 15 minutes.) Fluff with fork and reserve.

For dressing: Mix first five ingredients. Whisk in water until desired consistency and flavor is reached.

To build salad: Add the arugula and kale, red pepper and olives, chickpeas and diced tomatoes plus warm quinoa to a large bowl and toss with tahini dressing.


For the Maccabi Bowl, Spector suggests picking up your favorite hummus and some whole-wheat pita chips at the store, or making your own chips from whole wheat pita bread. You can make the falafel from a mix or leave it out.

Maccabi Bowl

Makes 4 to 6 servings

For farro tabouleh:

1 cup farro

1 heirloom tomato, diced small

1 small cucumber, skinned, seeded and diced small

1 stalk green onion, sliced thin

- Mint and Italian parsley, rough chopped

- Extra virgin olive oil

- Red wine vinegar

For baba ganoush:

1 large eggplant

11/2 tablespoons Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon tahini

1 garlic clove

1 tablespoon lemon juice

- Salt and pepper

- Extra virgin olive oil

For the beet dip:

3 large beets

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 clove garlic

1/4 cup toasted walnuts

1/2 cup Greek yogurt

11/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

- Salt and pepper

- Honey


- Mixed greens and arugula

- Falafel

- Pita chips

For farro tabouleh: Start with four cups of cold water and the farro in a pot on the stovetop. Bring to a boil and turn down to a simmer. Once water is soaked up, taste the farro - it may need a bit more time and water. Once tender, strain excess water, spread farro out on a sheet pan and let cool.

Place cooled farro, cucumber, tomato and onion in a bowl. Mix with the oil and vinegar and chopped herbs to taste.

For baba ganoush: A charcoal grill works best for egg plant, but a gas grill or grill pan will do as well. You can also use your oven.

If using charcoal or gas grill, place whole eggplant away from direct heat and put lid on grill. Rotate eggplant periodically. The skin should not be getting too charred. Once flesh of eggplant is soft on the inside, remove from heat and cover. The process should take about 15 minutes. When eggplant is cool enough to handle, cut in half and scrape the flesh out into your food processor, being careful not to get too much skin.

Pour remaining ingredients in the processor with eggplant except for olive oil. Puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle in olive oil to taste. Chill and reserve.

For beet dip: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place beets in roasting pan. Fill bottom of pan with water, cover tightly with foil. Roast for about an hour. When skin peels back with a push of your thumb beets are done. Let cool and peel. Rough chop and sprinkle with red wine vinegar.

Place beets and remaining ingredients except for the honey in a food processor. Pulse until consistency of pesto. Season with salt and pepper. Add honey if desired to taste. Chill and reserve.

To serve: Put the greens in a salad bowl and top with the tabouleh, baba ganoush, beet dip, hummus, pita chips and falafel, if you are using it.


You can find prepared seaweed salad and tobiko at the sushi bar at Oliver’s markets. Frozen tobiko, furikake and sachimi togarashi spices are available at Asian markets.

Tuna Poke Bowl

Makes 4 to 6 servings

For Soy Ginger Dressing (makes 1 quart):

1 cup soy sauce

1/2 cup lime juice

1/4 cup sesame oil

1/4 cup rice vinegar

1 cup light flavored oil

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 jalapeno, chopped

1- inch piece of ginger, skin on, chopped

For poke:

1 pound sushi grade ahi tuna, diced

2 cups brown rice, medium grain, steamed

1/4 cup edamame, blanched

1/4 cup prepared seaweed salad

4 tablespoons tobiko

1 small cucumber, diced

1 cup chopped romaine

1 cup shredded cabbage

- Furikake seasoning

- Sachimi Togarashi

For dressing: Blend all ingredients in blender until smooth. Add a splash of water to help emulsify. Reserve extra in fridge.

For poke: Toss tuna with a light coating of dressing. Cover and chill about an hour before serving.

On a large platter or bowl, make a bed of warm rice. Top with cabbage and romaine.

Make piles of cucumbers, edamame, tobiko and seaweed salad. Put mound of tuna in the middle and drizzle dressing over the top of all ingredients. Sprinkle with a generous shake of furikake and sachimi togarashi.

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.

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