Salad action

You can toss just about any ingredient into a salad and keep it healthy.

Just about anything can be a salad ingredient and, as self-serve salad bars have grown in size, the selections from nature’s bounty have increased in direct proportion to customer demand. Beyond the traditional staples such as lettuce, tomato, cucumber and onion, choices may now include any vegetable, fruit, grain or protein, chopped, sliced, diced, julienned or grilled, offered hot or cold. No matter what the main components, salads retain their good-for-you reputation since it’s mainly the cheeses, croutons and dressings that add calories and fat.

Today, salads take center stage in venues coast to coast where operators and their customers are seeking the excitement of made-to-order demo cooking plus more healthful options. For example, as part of the "Live life well" campaign now in full swing at 669-bed University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Medical Center, little green apple logos are popping up on "all the healthy stuff," executive chef Mark Dyball reports.

Now, every Thursday there’s some display cooking in the servery. Plus, on the first Thursday of every month, the emphasis is on healthy. One recent "first Thursday," two chefs on Dyball’s team were kept busy tossing Baja Shrimp Salad to order. They were following a recipe developed by chef-manager Gabriel Gomez, who is credited with designing most of the location’s recent recipes. More than 250 customers waited their turn to get a plateful of about seven medium sized (31/40) marinated shrimp tossed with baby greens, roasted corn, peas, carrots and diced tomatoes served with an avocado lime dressing, further seasoned with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper—all for $5.99.

In the bowl: "We buy the shrimp pre-cooked for this salad and marinate them for a few hours in olive oil, garlic and chipotle chile," Dyball explains. "Greens are pre-cut and pre-washed. We add our own romaine to the mix because it’s two-thirds less expensive that way. We thaw the frozen corn, then grill it on the flat top the morning of service; and the carrots are diced thin on the mandoline, which is a bit labor intensive. All items are set out separately. Then, as the customer comes up, the chef puts them in a bowl, adds the dressing, tosses the ingredients in front of the customer, puts it into a serving bowl and garnishes it with colorful tortilla strips."

For a Harvest Turkey Salad, some of the prep is also done the day before service. Rolled turkey breast, for example, is roasted and chilled, then julienned the next day. Meanwhile, candied pecan halves are tossed in a reduced simple syrup, then placed on a sheet pan in a 325°F oven for several minutes.

Education to-order: "This salad, with three ounces of turkey per portion, includes a bit of crumbled gorgonzola, candied pecans, sliced pears, sliced apples—skin on both—and dried cranberries," Dyball says. "After the salad is tossed with a pumpkin/pomegranate/blueberry vinaigrette, we add the candied pecans. The lines are still out the door for fried chicken every Thursday, but there are about 250 customers for this healthy turkey salad. We provide education with the display cooking, and when we do these healthy demos, we often have the dietitian at the event to provide nutrition information about the recipe and to answer questions."

Since salmon is so popular, it was a natural for a healthy salad demo-cooking spotlight. In the UCLA Medical Center version—classy enough for an upscale buffet—the side of salmon (poached the day before) is covered with “scales” of thinly sliced cucumber, then coated with aspic for shine. "The salmon, sliced in front of the customer, is served with baby field greens, pre-tossed in a real Champagne and dill vinaigrette, also portioned out by the chef," Dyball reports. "In addition, there’s a Waldorf salad on the side—a healthy version including diced apples, walnut halves, grapes, plus sliced celery—all tossed in a plain yogurt, sugar and vinegar mixture."

Fishing for sales: As part of its Club Fast Tracks "limited time only" promotions, Aramark recently introduced several Fish Market Salads to its business, healthcare and university accounts. Chad Glidewell, senior foodservice director at a telecommunications account in San Diego, ran the program two weeks in a row. With a daily lunchtime customer base of about 180, he found the Fish Market Salads did about 25% to 30% better than other salads and increased participation at his made-to-order salad station by about 15% each week.

"Our made-to-order salads range from $5.19 to $5.59. A spinach salad, for example, is $5.29, and these cold Fish Market Salads are priced at $5.59," Glidewell notes. "The first week we ran a four-ounce portion of tilapia atop mixed salad greens that were tossed with a pesto Caesar dressing, plus a scoop of lentil salad. During the second week, it was grilled salmon with Tex-Mex dressing (cumin and chili combined with garlic and freshly chopped cilantro) on the greens with a side scoop of barley salad. Each week we offered one additional salad choice such as barbecued chicken Caesar (the first week) and spinach salad with hot bacon and mushrooms the second week."

Tossed sizzle: At least one salad per week makes its appearance at the action station in each of the Corporate Image Dining Services accounts located in multi-tenant office buildings in Connecticut. The best seller at Café Nyala, in Westport, is Sizzling Thai Steak Salad and corporate chef Sal Cantalupo makes sure his chefs toss the meat with the salad rather than laying it on top.

"Flank steak is marinated in an Asian marinade overnight, then grilled off, cooked to rare, sliced and sautéed to order in the action station," he points out. "Sesame noodles are cooked in soy sauce-based water to give them flavor and color, then we combine them with a salad blend of cabbage, avocados, whole basil leaves, whole cilantro leaves, cubed mangos, shredded carrots and roasted peanuts—all tossed in a homemade Thai dressing. Since we toss it to order, the customer can indicate any ingredients to be omitted."

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