Grain-based salads

Operators are swapping greens for grains to create exciting salad options.

pennswood black bean quinoa salad

Four years ago, Executive Chef Ryan Conklin served quinoa for the first time at Rex Healthcare, a Raleigh, N.C. hospital. Customers were mystified by the superfood at first, but it wasn’t long before they became hooked on the protein- and fiber-packed grain, plus other exotic offerings like black barley, farro and freekeh.

Now, whole grains have become a mainstay at Rex, especially in the form of hearty salads. Conklin’s secret? Using unusual whole grains as a base for salads packed with other, more familiar ingredients. “My philosophy is, if you’re going to introduce something new, do it in a way that’s approachable by taking something that’s already popular and using it as your vessel,” Conklin says. “Whole grains are already intimidating, so it’s not the time to be adding arugula. Instead, I’ll use something more familiar, like spinach.”

On any given day, Rex’s cafeteria salad bar features up to three composed whole-grain salads. Many highlight fresh, seasonal produce. In the spring, Conklin pairs fresh roasted asparagus with grano, an ancient Italian strain of wheat that tastes similar to barley. And while summer fruits are at their peak, he serves up toasty freekeh salads with watermelon or grilled peaches and feta.  

Around the same time that Conklin introduced his customers to whole grains, Executive Chef Steve Plescha started a healthy eating program at Pennswood Village Senior Living Community, in Newtown, Pa., in response to his own recent diabetes diagnosis. Now, whole grains, as well as reduced fat and reduced sodium dishes, are part of the menu for residents who were used to a very different type of fare. “We came from Jell-O salads, aspics and coleslaw, so the [healthier food] was not well received in the beginning,” he says.

Once Plescha started playing up the grains’ natural sweetness—and touting their health benefits—his customers’ taste buds began to change. Quinoa date salad, a Pennswood favorite, is augmented with dried apricots, dried cherries, raisins and a honey vinaigrette. A quinoa and garbanzo bean salad gets a touch of sugar from dried cranberries, plus nuttiness and crunch from toasted almonds. 

And with the help of bold flavors, whole-grain salads on the savory side are a hit with Pennswood residents, too. One, made with black beans and quinoa, is punched up with diced red and green peppers, diced tomato, red onion and a fresh cilantro lime dressing. Of course, adding a generous dose of healthy fat helps, too. “We use extra-virgin olive oil to make moisture happen,” Plescha adds.

Even kids are coming around to the taste of whole grains. Chandler Unified School District, in Arizona, recently began piloting a recipe for Greek ‘Bouleh—that’s kid-friendly slang for tabbouleh. “We made some changes [to traditional tabbouleh] to make the flavor profile more kid friendly and will be serving it this coming year,” says Food and Nutrition Director Wesley Delbridge, R.D.

Chandler’s version of the cool, bulgur wheat-based salad uses less lemon for a milder taste, while the addition of feta cheese adds creaminess that’s appealing to younger palates.   “Adding fresh herbs, like parsley, basil and cilantro, adds color and dynamic flavor to the salad. And a rich, fruity olive oil provides the finishing touch that pulls together a quick grain salad,” he says. 

More From FoodService Director

Menu Development
sauces

Adding an entirely new cuisine to the menu can feel daunting. But what if you could dabble in international flavors simply by introducing a few new condiments? For inspiration, FSD talked to operators who are offering a range of condiments plucked from global regional cuisines.

“Most ethnic cuisines have some sort of sauce or condiment relishes that go with their dishes,” says Roy Sullivan, executive chef with Nutrition & Food Services at UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco. Condiments offered to diners at UCSF Medical include chimichurri (Argentina), curry (India), tzatziki (...

Ideas and Innovation
turnip juice brine

Give leftover brine new life by adding it to vegetables. In an interview with Food52, Stuart Brioza, chef and owner of State Bird Provisions in San Francisco, says that he adds a splash of leftover brine while sauteeing mushrooms to increase their flavor profile. “We like to ferment turnips at the restaurant, and it’s a great way to use that brine—though dill pickle brine would work just as well,” he says.

Menu Development
side dishes

Operators looking to increase sales of side dishes may want to focus on freshness and value. Here’s what attributes consumers say are important when picking sides.

Fresh - 73% Offered at a fair price - 72% Satisfies a craving - 64% Premium ingredients - 56% Natural ingredients - 49% Signature side - 47% Something familiar - 46% Housemade/made from scratch - 44% Something new/unique - 42% Large portion size - 42% Healthfulness - 40% Family-size - 40%

Source: Technomic’s 2017 Starters, Small Plates and Sides Consumer Trend Report , powered by Ignite

Ideas and Innovation
earth

When putting together our surveys, FoodService Director’s editors tend to ask operators about big trends that we’re seeing throughout the industry. For the November "Besties" issue , we asked readers to share the best ways they’re menuing things like plant-based dishes, trending international cuisines and creative DIY options.

Great responses flooded in from across the country, and it was tough to narrow down which would make it into the cover story. A few even came in after the piece was finished. Laura Thompson, resident district manager for Aramark at James Madison University,...

FSD Resources