Review: Whole Grains around Lake Minnetonka

Dive into alternative grains for a healthy heart and happy soul.
Enjoy Pairing's seasonal quiona salad with a glass of red wine to up the heart-health quotient.

Kamut, quinoa, teff, spelt, freekeh, farro, amaranth and millet. Sound like a list of exotic destinations? Not quite. In fact, they’re names of whole or alternative grains, and you can experience them right here in our lake-area neighborhoods. The latest darlings of the nutrition world, many of them have been around for ages, with quinoa dating back to the Incans.

The USDA recommends eating 6 to 8 ounces of whole grains each day to help prevent heart disease, stroke, colon cancer, type two diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. These little miracle workers are full of protein, fiber, heart-healthy omega 3 oils and all sorts of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients. Versatility is another bonus, because they can be used in the same way as rice or pasta, and also can be made into flour for baked goods. Luckily we happen to like the way they taste. Explore the flavorful world of alternative grains and call it a heart-healthy adventure. Your arteries may thank you, but your taste buds will get the last laugh.



Quinoa, pronounced “KEEN-wa,” was grown for human consumption more than 3,000 years ago in the Andes Mountains. The Incas deemed it sacred, calling it “the mother of all grains.” Rightly so—it’s full of protein, fiber, minerals and calcium, making it a perfect choice for the lactose-intolerant and vegans, as well as for those who are gluten-free. Used and cooked in the same way as rice, it has an earthy flavor and slight crunch. Pairings always has some kind of quinoa salad on offer. In the fall and winter months, the harvest quinoa salad features butternut squash, dried cherries, toasted pumpkin seeds and a maple vinaigrette. The spring version will be just as compelling, especially since 2013 has been declared the International Year of Quinoa by the United Nations. $5.95 starter; $10.95 entrée. 6001 Shady Oak Rd., Minnetonka; 952.426.0522;


Hazellewood Grill and Tap Room


Oatmeal comes from ground oat groats or hulled grains. The soluble fiber in oatmeal fights cholesterol and is high in vitamin B. We think it’s just yummy, especially when transformed into Hazellewood’s scrumptious toasted oatmeal pancakes. Having graced the menu for more than eight years, these toasty cakes predate the current craze for whole grains. Each serving delivers three golden discs—more flapjack than cake—that are almost creamy in texture. You can add roasted Fuji apples, fresh macerated strawberries, blueberries or mixed berry compote. We prefer them au naturel, with a generous drizzling of real maple syrup from nearby Hamel. $6. 5635 Manitou Rd., Tonka Bay; 952.401.0066;



Crossroads Delicatessen

Couscous is a staple in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, and may look like a grain but it’s more of a pasta: Each pearl is made from rolling semolina, a kind of wheat. Israeli couscous features a larger-sized pearl, and in this salad it’s paired with red quinoa. Red quinoa is nuttier—and prettier— than its paler cousin and retains a firmer texture. This salad is a riotous mosaic of color, texture and flavor. The couscous and quinoa are tossed with chickpeas, mixed field greens, slivers of red and green olives, diced red onion, cubes of feta cheese and bright fresh mint. Sliced tomato and cucumber rounds join a grilled, sliced chicken breast on top of the salad. A light Mediterranean olive oil and lemon dressing punctuated by an eye-opening pop of garlic brings it all together. $12.99. 2795 Hedberg Dr., Hopkins; 952.546.6595;


Lakewinds Natural Food Market

Kamut is a kind of wheat, one of the “ancient grains” called Khorasan, after the region in northeast Iran. High in protein, selenium, zinc and magnesium, and more easily digestible for those with wheat sensitivity, the little football-shaped grain is nutty in flavor and has a pleasantly chewy texture. Here the kamut is mixed with diced green and red bell peppers, red onion, lots of chopped parsley and a lightly sweet lemony dressing. Carrots, peas and sunflower seeds join the chorus of vitamin vibrations. The omega in the name of this salad refers to the heart-healthy flax oil used in the dressing. $7.99/lb. 7501 Minnetonka Blvd., Minnetonka; 952.473.0292;



Farro, a wheat berry commonly used in Italy, is the whole-grain star of this dish. This grain once supported the legions of ancient Roman soldiers and now it charms modern legions of flavor-seekers. It tastes like a cross between oats and barley, and when paired here with chopped fresh spinach, red quinoa, red bell pepper, avocado, tomato and shaved Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, it’s divine. The dressing is simplicity itself: lemon, parsley and extra-virgin olive oil. It’s simultaneously light and hearty. $10 small; $14 large. 1571 Plymouth Rd., Minnetonka; 952.544.7000;

Salmon and quinoa are frequently paired on menus, perhaps because they both have an abundance of omega 3 oils, or because the oily fish makes an appealing counterpoint to the earthy grain. In this appealingly pretty dish, the salmon is quickly grilled to retain a moist interior and gussied up with a pile of peppery arugula, lots of nutty quinoa, mellow roasted garlic and pungent salami. Luscious bright lemon oil contributes the final touch. $14. 331 Broadway Ave. S., Wayzata; 952.767.2417

Romano’s Macaroni Grill

This creamy, garlicky pile of slippery noodles will seduce you at first bite, and you may be tempted to commend yourself for eating a healthy meal. Eat it up, by all means, but do not be fooled! While the whole-wheat fettuccine is filled with fiber, the roast chicken full of protein and the tender broccolini high in vitamin C, the rich cream sauce evens the playing field to create a dish that’s nutritious and insidious at the same time. Enjoy it anyway—we certainly did. The heap of grated Pecorino Romano cheese on top brings the dish into the realm of ecstasy. It’s worth every last calorie. $13.50. 11390 Wayzata Blvd., Minnetonka; 952.417.9880;

The Marsh

Wild rice is our state’s pride crop and it’s also high in protein, lysine and fiber. It was sacred to our indigenous population, who harvested it from shallow waters by canoe. In the Ojibwa language it’s called manoomin, which translates as “good berry.” The walnut and wild rice burger at the Marsh makes excellent use of the good berry, and also does double whole-grain duty with a chewy multigrain bun. Walnuts and wild rice are a textural and flavorful match made in heaven, and the chunky tomato-almond chutney adds a brilliant note of sweet and tart. $10. 15000 Minnetonka Blvd., Minnetonka; 952.935.2202;

Great Harvest Bread Company

This local bakery chain has been around for more than 30 years, baking with whole grains before it was trendy. You may associate rye with a deli sandwich, but it’s also a whole grain and lower in gluten than wheat flour. Rye was the primary form of grain in Medieval Europe, even though it was susceptible to the ergot fungus, which when ingested caused convulsions and hallucinations often mistaken for possession by evil spirits. Great Harvest’s fragrant, soft-centered, sturdily crusted pumpernickel uses both fresh-ground whole-wheat flour and rye flour; molasses and caraway seeds create its distinctive color and flavor. $4. 17416 Minnetonka Blvd., Minnetonka; 952.476.2515;