The beet and watermelon salad from San Diego State.Fruit salads have a new look these days. Chefs are grilling, pan-frying and even smoking fruit. Sometimes they’re tossing in out-of-the-ordinary ingredients to create a fun salad rendition of a classic recipe.
At Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, Calif., for example, Executive Chef Sam Sellona offers the traditional Greek combination of watermelon and feta cheese. Sellona makes it his own by adding mint, lime juice and a bit of pitted, sliced kalamata olives.
“It’s a refreshing and totally different salad,” Sellona says. “When most people think of watermelon in the U.S., they think of just a wedge of the fruit.”
Sellona developed the dish while he was “messing around,” but after some refinement he prepared it at a cooking demonstration at Hoag’s Mary and Dick Allen Diabetes Center, where the chef teaches healthful cooking classes every month. Sellona and a hospital dietitian collaborated on developing the salad that in the end met both the chef’s need for taste and the dietitian’s health constraints, which “sometimes can be a battle,” Sellona jokes.
There was good customer response to the watermelon feta salad, Sellona says. He plans to add it to future menu rotations at the hospital.
Grilling grows: Angelo Spilios, senior director of Dining Services for Flik Independent School Dining at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School in New York, offers a similar watermelon salad with feta, but he adds honeydew and cantaloupe. Spilios also chars the melons before cutting them into chunks for a salad.
“This is a think-outside-the-box fruit salad,” Spilios says. “You have the coolness of the watermelon and the saltiness of the cheese, and it goes together really well.
“We grill the melon because it adds more flavor and it entices the kids’ palates,” Spilios adds. “The kids get bored easily. Plus, our school is based in Manhattan where [most] people don’t have grills,” so char-cooking is somewhat novel.
Spilios also grills fruit for an appetizer salad that he pairs with three separate pepper sauces. He prepares the sauces with yellow, red and green peppers. Students are offered the green bell pepper sauce, but Spilios spices up the sauce with jalapeño for adults, who are more receptive to the spicy heat, he says. To finish the grilled fruit starter, and to add some sour and sweet notes, Spilios drizzles reduced balsamic over the top.
For breakfast Spilios tops a yogurt parfait with a rendition of fruit salad. His morning mix includes fruits such as mango, star fruit and blackberries along with housemade granola.
Beet it: At San Diego State University a recently concocted watermelon and beet salad took off as a vegetarian option for a Meatless Mondays program at the school’s Faculty Staff Club. The salad satiates diners, according to the university’s Executive Chef David McHugh.
“It is sturdy and hearty enough as a main course,” McHugh says. Meatless Mondays flopped when implemented campuswide, the chef admits, because students didn’t like having their choices limited by force. The weekly vegetarian program, however, has worked well at the Faculty Staff Club, where it remains.
“We have a salad bar with fruit salad every day at the Faculty Staff Club,” McHugh adds. “The chef of the club, Mike Feil, can take anything and turn it into [any dish he chooses]. He has an herb garden that we manage right outside his door.”
Feil, who developed the beet and watermelon salad, says it “was somewhat of an experiment.” For his dish, he roasts standard-size red beets along with available baby heirloom varieties, such as candy cane and burnt orange. Once they are cooled, he peels and cuts the beets and tosses them with bite-size pieces of watermelon and a chiffonade of basil, cider vinegar, olive oil, salt and black pepper.
“The bite of the pepper and salt play well off the sweetness of the beets and watermelon,” Feil explains. “In some respects, it pays homage to our neighbors in Mexico where you see chile, salt and an acid, typically lime, added to fruit. We use black pepper instead of chile.
“Sometimes the simplest recipes are the best,” Feil adds. “The marriage between the earthy yang elements of beet is paired with the light and refreshing yin aspects of watermelon in this unique salad.”
Feil said he drew inspiration from France to create this recipe. “One of my favorite salads also involves beets and oranges,” he explains, recalling a classic French recipe.
Guest response to the beet and watermelon combination has been positive. “It has been overwhelmingly popular at the Faculty Staff Club here at SDSU,” Feil says.
Simplicity rules: Hallmark Cards’ foodservice department tosses up a honey-lime fruit salad with poppy seeds that sells well for catering functions, says Christine Rankin, corporate foodservices manager, who is based at headquarters in Kansas City, Mo. The sweet salad features an array of fruit, such as pineapple, cantaloupe, grapes, kiwi, blueberries, watermelon, poppy seeds, honey and lime juice.
The salad is made for special orders, but when it is prepared it is cross-utilized on the salad bar. While the employees enjoy the salad, Rankin finds her most popular fruit items are small, prepackaged portions of cut fruit. Her guests appreciate grab-and-go small containers that keep their serving size low.