Whole grains add heft to summer salads
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.