Legacy Emanuel’s huckleberry and red onion marmalade
sandwich on a rosemary bun. As more people look to eat more healthfully, vegetarian cuisine is gaining larger acceptance. This includes the sandwich category, where cheese is often the lone vegetarian alternative.
At the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, Executive Director of Food and Nutrition Michael Campbell has opened a new retail location to satisfy the desires of vegetarians and customers looking for more healthful options. On its menu, The Gathering Place features many meatless sandwiches, in addition to smaller portions, lower-calorie dishes and gluten-free foods.
Campbell has seen a growth of vegetarian diners among the patients, 3,000 students and 10,000 employees at the 450-bed hospital. He’s striving to meet those customers’ needs whether they’re eating in a facility or grabbing a sandwich on the run.
When the location opened in June, Campbell was selling 15 sandwiches a day. “Now we are up to close to 50 sandwiches, and they run out,” he says.
The Gathering Place’s veggie burger is smaller than the meat rendition sold in the main dining hall. For an added health benefit, the burger is served with baked sweet potato fries instead of the fried potatoes offered at the cafeteria.
Instead of a traditional egg salad sandwich, Campbell offers one with a touch of Parmesan cheese at the Gathering Place. The concoction is served on dark pumpernickel bread, setting off the filling’s yellow color.
Vegetarian dish for meat eaters: Chef Salvatore Cantalupo of Corporate Image Dining Services, based in Westport, Conn., upgraded the common panini by creating a vegetarian Tuscan basil sandwich. The rendition is Cantalupo’s most popular sandwich. Along with fresh herb leaves, the panini includes housemade focaccia, pesto sauce, fresh mozzarella, roasted red peppers and tomatoes.
The sandwich’s ingredient list is short, but Cantalupo says, “People go gaga over it. Non-vegetarians like it as well.” While the panini is a featured sandwich once a month at Corporate Image’s five accounts in Fairfield County, Conn., because the ingredients are on hand every day, customers can ask deli workers to build the Tuscan basil panini whenever they want.
Cantalupo says one thing his employees need to be aware of when serving vegetarian customers is food handling procedures. Vegetarians often ask that employees use separate tongs and for workers to change their gloves after they’ve handled meat, he says.
One sandwich for three diets: At the Legacy Emanuel Medical Center/Randall Children’s Hospital in Portland, Ore., Chef Brian Seto has created a brown rice and vegetable wrap that meets the dietary requirements for vegans and for patients with kidney issues and gluten intolerance. The sandwich is wrapped in a brown rice tortilla and finished with a housemade harissa vinaigrette. Since kitchen space is limited, Seto looks for foods that fit with multiple menus, especially gluten-free diets, for which he is hearing more requests.
“We wanted something that was low sodium and has a lot of flavor,” Seto says. The wrap’s warm rice and cool raw vegetables—red peppers, yellow peppers and shredded carrots—meet those requirements.
For a cold vegetarian sandwich, Seto pairs a housemade rosemary bun with a housemade huckleberry and red onion marmalade, tomatoes, green leaf lettuce, fresh spinach, provolone and herb cream cheese. Huckleberries, a well-known wild berry in the Northwest, give the dish a local feel that Seto says diners appreciate.
Hyper-local: St. Philip’s Academy, a kindergarten through eighth grade school in Newark, N.J., also is using local products in its vegetarian sandwiches. The students at this secondary school grow their own herbs, vegetables and fruits both in a hydroponic system in the dining room and on a rooftop garden, which is part of a gardening and food project the school calls EcoSPACES. Thai basil, corn, figs, cucumber and sage are a few of the items grown.
The students are encouraged to create their own vegetarian sandwiches from the produce offered at the salad bar. The produce is offered in its raw form and goes well with spreads such as a black bean avocado hummus with garlic and cumin. The spread was created by Vanessa Parker, who oversees St. Philip’s salad bar. The hummus became a fast hit for nonmeat-eating staff and students, according to Frank Mentesana, director of St. Philip’s food gardening project, EcoSPACES.
“We teach our students where food comes from,” Mentesana says. He adds that students are more likely to try new items if they’ve had a hand in growing them.
Mentesana says the gardens have helped students broaden their produce knowledge. When the gardens were planted five years ago students didn’t know radishes from tomatoes, he says. Now they know what edamame is.
“Hitting home runs:” Foodservice staff at the Parkland Health and Hospital System in Dallas also have seen a change in the healthfulness of their customers’ dining patterns.
Tony Davidson, retail services manager for nutrition services, says when he started 18 months ago the hospital’s dietitians didn’t eat in the cafeteria because they didn’t think there were enough healthy choices. So Davidson added dishes geared for people looking for those more healthful options.
“The people who work here are healthy and they want real food,” Davidson adds. “We’re hitting home runs right and left, so now people are paying attention.”
One of the new dishes Davidson is most proud of is a vegetable panini on herb flatbread that was developed almost by mistake. The chef went into the creation process thinking of preparing a new chicken sandwich recipe. He started loading on spinach, tomato, lettuce, cilantro, feta cheese and avocado dressing and decided to try the sandwich before adding the meat. He liked it as is, and his diners—and dietitians—are also happy with the non-meat sandwich.