Nothing says summer more than green – grass growing, trees in full leaf, gardens showing their green. Green is all over the menu too, but is definitely the headliner for salads. Enchant your guests with creatively complex summer fare.
Meet your green team
Greens, or leaf vegetables, offer a cavalcade of colours, textures and flavours to enhance your salad offerings. Ensure you are using the best ones to complement your dish or change it up to adjust the taste or visual appeal. The combinations are endless.
Lettuce (crisphead, butterhead, loose leaf and romaine), spinach, arugula, chicory (radicchio, escarole, endive, frisée), and brassica greens (kale, cabbage, collards) are longstanding pillars of a great salad.
But there are others, too, perhaps not as common: dandelion, beet leaves, cress (water, garden or peppergrass), mâche and fresh herbs. These green outliers offer a complexity used either alone or in combination with the pillars.
Although baby leaf vegetables are mainstream, microgreens are surging through. Somewhere between a sprout and a baby, this nutrient-packed option is both visually stunning and flavourful. Think concentrated flavour of the grown-up version.
Best of all, greens can be used on, in, over, under and around your cold plate menus.
Salads are perfect to add plant-based menu options
With the ever-growing popularity of plant-based eating, greens are basking in glory, as they should. Leaf vegetables hit numerous consumer trends: vegan/vegetarian, plant-based, low-carb, gluten-free, “clean,” locally available and naturally delicious. You would think they were engineered specifically for today’s kitchens.
In fact, 34% of the population is eating more meals with vegetarian options, according to Technomic.
Whatever the reason for eating vegetarian or vegan options – healthier options, feeling better physically, nutrition – consumers still crave flavour.
More than 25% of the population would like restaurants to offer a wider variety of vegetarian entrées, according to Technomic 2019 Centre of the Plate Consumer Trend Report.
Have you increased your vegetarian entrée selection? Salads are an excellent, and simple, vehicle to pump up these offerings.
Getting the most out of your frozen vegetables
The freezer doesn’t usually come to mind when designing a salad, but it should.
“When it comes to nutrition, fruits and vegetables have always been the go-to in terms of healthy eating. Tried and true, their combination of practicality, taste, and nutritionals benefit are second to none. Frozen, rather than fresh, has several unique benefits, a clear choice for resourceful restaurant operators,” says Lisa Waizmann, marketing manager for Alasko Foods.
Edamame is a great example, offered by Alasko in a shelled IQF format. This multi-functional vegetable can be a base for a hummus style dressing, protein add-on or colourful salad ingredient – always ready to help. Remember frozen vegetables need to be prepared according to package directions before consumption, even if using them cold.
“Using frozen fruits and vegetables minimizes labour and food waste costs,” reminds Waizmann. “Using IQF (individual quick freezing) technology also locks in freshness, flavour, colour and taste and might even be less costly than their fresh counterparts.”
Mekong Rice Mix – basmati rice, yellow and orange carrots, leeks, peas, corn and onions – also by Alasko, can save hours and no waste. Or how about using frozen fruits? Pomegranate arils sprinkled on top or mango chunks in a salad dressing?
During busy spring and summer months, restaurant operators should embrace any time savings available without compromising quality.
Create the perfect salad
For a salad to satisfy your customers, power up greens with flavour, texture and fun.
Here’s a basic formula for a vegetarian/vegan entrée salad:
- 3 cups greens
- 1-2 cups vegetables
- ½ cup grains
- 3-4 oz protein
- 2-3 tbsp dressing
“I am slowly cutting down my meat consumption and eating more like a vegetarian. Chickpea tacos are my current favourite vegetarian dish,” says Victoria Horton, sales and quality assurance at Horton Spice Mills.
Why not take that flavour profile to a salad?
“Spices, quite simply, give food the flavour we need and want,” says Horton. “Spices create a whole new world in the kitchen.”
Going global is easy when you combine the spice rack with greens and vegetables. Horton Spice Mills make it even simpler with their range of high-quality products.
Take the Chickpea Taco Salad for a spin around the world – change the flavour on the chickpeas to Horton’s Curry Seasoning, or ginger and turmeric or Ultimate Vegetable Seasoning. It doesn’t need to be complicated.
Multi-functional ingredients are key in today’s kitchens. “The benefits of using blends are their versatility. They also save on time, space and money,” says Horton. “Many, if not all blends are useful for more than their name says.”
Warm weather brings cravings of fresh and flavourful yet good-for-me fare. A cleverly designed vegetarian entrée salad menu will fit the bill. If done right, expect an encore.
Create the perfect plant-based menu
Consumers are hungry for more plant-based menu options. Why not use a vegan/vegetarian entrée salad as a springboard to an entire tasting menu? Here are a few themes to get your creative juices flowing:
- Taste the rainbow – follow the colours of the rainbow as you move through courses; remember green looks good with everything
- Root to shoot – take a page from the carnivores and showcase vegetables that are savoured from root to shoot, a no-waste menu
- Around the world – hit all continents to feature plant-based dishes
- All in the family – focus on one family of vegetables, like brassicas, to pull through the menu
- “Unperfect” – celeriac is an odd-looking specimen but utterly delicious; bring these oft overlooked delicacies out of obscurity and onto plates
- Loco for local – try a farm-focused menu
Chickpea Taco Salad
Herb & Garlic Marinated Rice and Veg with Greens
About the Author
Cherie Thompson understands foodservice from field to fork. A B.Sc. in Agriculture and experience in quality control, food science, product development, recipe development/editing, customer service, and teaching as well as owning and operating two independent foodservice operations have given her a unique perspective on the food industry.