Why you should experiment with fresh salad ideas

By Liana Robberecht
While summer seems like a good time to enjoy cool, crisp vegetables and all things salad, the reality is that you will find that individually-priced salads are a staple on restaurant menus year-round. Dark greens such as kale and spinach have become a favourite platform for entrée salads, often with the option to add a protein. Prepared salads, such as pasta, potato and grain salads find a home on more than half of menus geared towards “grab-and-go” service. No doubt about it: cool salads are hot, hot, hot!

A cornucopia of benefits

Salads offer more than crisp textures – they deliver a bowl (or plate) full of nutrition and versatility. With a growing awareness of super greens (über-nutritious, dark green veggies) and all the health benefits they can offer, creative combinations of all sorts are found on all menus. Kale and spinach definitely lead the super-green salad pack, but what is it about super greens that gets everyone so excited? What makes them so super anyway?

Well, this elite group of nutrient-rich vegetables is packed with a wide array of vitamins, minerals, proteins, anti-oxidants and enzymes that are easily absorbed by the body. Because of their highly concentrated nutrient profile, super greens are believed to help boost the immune system, reduce inflammation, detoxify the body and promote healthy digestion. Some studies have indicated that super greens may help regulate cholesterol as well as reduce the symptoms of arthritis. The key appears to be high levels of chlorophyll, which helps lower the pH balance of the body, thereby making the body more alkaline and reducing the acidity that is associated with health problems such as arthritis. The anti-oxidants in super greens are a line of defense against free radicals, which contribute to disease and aging, while the enzymes contained in super greens appear to aid digestion.

Nutritional powerhouse

Beyond the chemistry, those who regularly consume super greens report numerous health benefits: increased energy, reduced cravings for sweets and an overall sense of clarity and well-being. Imagine — all of this goodness is available in a bowl!

Not a fan of greens? No problem! We’re no longer limited to just greens as a salad base. Grains like quinoa and faro provide a substantial foundation for even the hungriest of customers. Topped with pumpkin seeds or almonds, the creative combinations are limited only by a chef’s imagination.

Revamping the classics

As the newly-appointed executive chef of WinSport Winter Sport Institute at Canada Olympic Park, I will be working with the talented team already in place to enhance our food programs. Healthy, filling, nutritious salads will be central to our changes. Creating salads that make Canadian athletes happy is not only a challenge, but an honour.

Other chefs recognize the potential of salads, too. Chef/owner Cam Dobranski of Calgary’s Brasserie Kensington takes on old classics like Caesar salad and gets creative. Instead of sending this classic already mixed to the table, he plates artistically, with generous portions of fresh romaine lettuce, whole slices of locally cured bacon, fried capers, house-made croutons, and garlic-lemon aioli. This Caesar salad also comes with an option to add your choice of fried egg, local duck confit or foie gras. Salads like this are big hits with customers and provide an even bigger bonus to your bottom line. With options to “upgrade” salads with choice, quality ingredients, customers are now feeling that salads are worth ordering and worth ordering right.

From palate to palette

And speaking of artistic, salads can pack a serious punch not just in flavour, but also in colour! A feast for the eyes is almost as enjoyable as one for the tummy, and if you can giftwrap the two together, you’re sitting pretty. One does not have to venture very far into the garden to create tasty vegetable salads that are beautifully composed. Combine golden and candy cane beets, purple carrots, shaved onions, and a few herb micro-greens and you may as well toss that salad with your painter’s brush. Add some edible flower petals, and you’ve got a true work of art. Careful presentation combined with perfectly composed salads deliver the masterpiece that customers are looking to order.

A fast feast

Joel Hector is owner of Fork and Salad, a new quick-service restaurant set to launch this fall in Calgary. Fork and Salad will be a healthy, casual quick-service food company serving big bowl salads, wraps, organic soups, healthy snacks and beverages. Their produce will be delivered daily, never canned and only served raw, roasted, baked or steamed. The chef will be working with a registered dietitian to provide customers with nutrient-rich flavour combinations high in fibre and protein. More than just a destination for delicious food that’s healthy for you, Fork and Salad will also align itself with its customers’ values. Community and charity give-back programs for the city are already in the works.

Whether the focus is on nutrition, reinvented classics, artistic presentation or a quick-and-tasty offering, salads are one menu option that is good-as-gold. Toss in the most important ingredient – creativity – and salads are guaranteed to please your customers and boost your bottom line.

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About the author:

Liana Robberecht is Executive Chef at WinSport Winter Sport Institute in Calgary, Alberta. In 2011, she was named Chef of the Year by the Alberta Foodservice Expo and Canadian Restaurant & Foodservice News. Liana is a frequent contributor to CRFN and www.restaurantcentral.ca.

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