Beyond Chicken Caesar

New seasonal salads feature out-of-the- ordinary protein toppings, garnishes and ethnic flair

With summer just around the corner, foodservice operators are updating menus by adding cold or lighter main courses in the form of entrée salads to their warm-weather menus.

Besides offering visually appealing greens, fresh vegetables and fun toppings, entrée salads allow chefs to experiment with a wide variety of proteins, from chicken and beef to non-meat options such as quinoa, lentils and soy foods.

With the continuing increase in the emphasis on health, operators are finding that their customers are willing to embrace all types of additions to their summer salads.

Hunting for health: “I serve just company executives and they are all health buffs,” says chef Richard Ramos, who manages the foodservice at Cisco in San Jose, Calif., for Bon Appétit Management Co. “They prefer whole grains.”

To meet that demand, Ramos often chooses quinoa, for its high protein content. The chef first toasts the grain, then boils it. He then teams the quinoa with smoked turkey tossed with roasted cherry tomatoes and arugula, dressed with a sherry vinaigrette. Dried cranberries, Parmesan cheese and pumpkin seeds garnish the salad.

“Quinoa [is] light and fluffy,” Ramos adds, “and it fills you up.”

Like Ramos, Rocky Galloway, production supervisor for patient services at the University of Missouri Health Care network in Columbia, Mo., also serves entrée salads designed with health in mind. Galloway uses red lentils in salads, also for the legume’s high protein level. Another benefit: Lentils spice up Galloway’s patient menus with an innovative flair, especially his curried red lentil salad with goat cheese.

“Red lentils are underused,” says Galloway. “I’ve always been a fan of their flavor and texture. I’m looking for things that are a little offbeat and interesting. Food is 50% of your entertainment, outside of the TV, when you’re lying in a hospital. Food is a big part of the healing process.”

Galloway says the salad’s mixture of lentils and goat cheese increases protein counts, making this dish a good option for those patients who need extra protein in their diets. From a culinary standpoint, Galloway says goat cheese pairs well with lentils. To add extra spice, he seasons the salad with garam masala. He also selects red lentils, which turn a shade of orange when cooked, for their visual appeal

Galloway boils the lentils for about six minutes. He says the salad’s flavors are best incorporated if the curry vinaigrette is added while the lentils are still warm.

Seafood solutions: For a salmon salad, Galloway prepares a lemon dill vinaigrette that includes olive oil and capers. He tosses roasted salmon pieces with small diced, roasted potatoes and sliced, toasted almonds, which adds a different texture.

“The almonds give a crunch,” Galloway says. “I hate to get [dishes] and everything is soft.”
He describes his salmon salad as being similar to a tuna salad but with a “cleaner” flavor. The dish is a favorite at Missouri Health Care.

Matthew J. Burek, director of Dining Services for Flik Independent School Dining at Noble and Gree-nough School in Dedham, Mass., a coeducational, nonsectarian day and boarding school for students in grades seven through twelve, grills shrimp to top a quick kimchee-type salad. For the kimchee, Burek marinates finely sliced Napa cabbage, onion, scallion and red peppers for an hour in red wine vinegar with sesame oil, chili oil, fresh ginger, sugar and red pepper.

At Oracle in Redwood Shores, Calif., Chef Armando Maes, of Bon Appétit, prepares a tuna salad that he calls “Liguria-style.” Maes layers large chunks of house-cured and slow-poached tuna, cooked egg, pitted black olives and raw sliced baby fennel, artichokes and peas over day-old or grilled bread.

Maes slow cooks the tuna immersed in olive oil. Once chilled, the fish is dressed with salsa verde prepared with capers, parsley, cooked egg and anchovy. For a heartier protein salad, Maes combines bitter greens, including chicory, and tops them with warm grilled flank steak. Shaved fennel, Parmesan cheese and balsamic vinaigrette finish the dish.

Spanning the globe: In a similar manner, Chef Tom Tannozzini tosses together grilled sirloin and a gorgonzola blue cheese dressing at Masonic Village, a retirement facility in Lafayette Hill, Pa. Basil-marinated tomatoes and white beans dressed with olive oil, garlic and parsley accompany the steak salad.

For a Mexican-influenced salad, Tannozzini plates warm grilled tilapia with a cool Mexican cheese, jícama and pickled carrots with cilantro. Greek-style pork tenderloin salad gets a lemon-oregano vinaigrette with white balsamic. Tannozzini places the pork over mixed greens tossed with feta, tomatoes and kalamata olives.

He creates an Asian flair with charred chicken thighs marinated in a vinaigrette that includes sweet Thai chili sauce, cilantro leaves, fish sauce, scallion tops and garlic. That dressing also flavors Asian mixed greens combined with water chestnuts, ears of baby corn, bean sprouts and blanched snow peas. The greens and veggies become a bed for the chicken.  

Grazing at the “Produce Market”

University revamps self-serve section of cafeteria.

 The words “salad bar” have been replaced with “produce market” at one dining hall at the University of California–Irvine, and interest in the newly named, newly designed self-serve section has increased.

“We’re trying to get away from the term ‘salad bar,’” says UCI’s chef, Paul Baca, who works for Aramark at the university. “We did not stop using the salad bar; however, we provided a refresh and reimaging. We actually bring the fresh produce out in the servery where we cut, slice and dice ingredients in front of the guests.”

The produce market features eight to 10 fresh vegetables, about four dry toppings such as dried cranberries and nuts, and three to four lettuce choices, such as an iceberg mix, romaine, baby spinach and mesclun greens. The selection of produce is primarily determined by what local farmers grow in season and what they can supply, Baca explains.

Spring ahead: Keeping with a fresh spring image, Baca recently pulled stew dishes from the menu and replaced them with main-course salads that are available adjacent to the market in a chef-manned station. These cold dishes, which sell best at lunch, will remain in the cafeteria until the fall, Baca says.

“We prepare a specialty entrée item in front of customers, such as a shrimp ceviche, because it brings a fresher perspective to the meal, encourages student-chef interaction and engages students in an exciting way,” Baca explains.

Because of a heavy Latino influence in southern California, Baca says he sells a good deal of ceviche. The acidic seafood is served in a fried tortilla shell on a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce as a salad entrée selection. For the seafood he rotates options, but he most often poaches medium-size shrimp. Once cooled Baca marinates the shrimp with diced tomato, onion, cilantro, jalapeño, fresh-squeezed orange juice, olive oil, lemon and lime juice. After about two hours of marinating, he assembles the salad to order and serves it with guacamole, sliced avocado, salsa and hot sauce.

Sometimes Baca selects minced raw fish, such as tilapia or pollock, rather than poached shrimp. In that case, the fish marinates for about a half hour in the same acidic mixture.

Vegetarian fare: Baca says entrée salads are “very popular and have a high acceptability factor this time of year. A lot of people like to eat lighter now. I find a lot of the students are into the health kick. I’m going to say 25% to 35% [of the students] are health-conscious eaters.”

To help satisfy those students’ desires, Baca menus vegetarian entrée salads at a vegan/vegetarian station that is attached to the produce market.

At this non-meat station a vegetarian kung pao turned into a main course salad sells well, Baca adds. For it, Baca places fried tofu over an Asian slaw prepared with julienned carrots, Napa cabbage, bean sprouts and bok choy. He garnishes the dish with roasted peanuts, fried glass noodles and sometimes shrimp wontons.

Getting Hooked 

Jack Connor, chef/manager for Flik Independent School Dining at Meadowbrook School in Weston, Mass., discovered that his student customers are more apt to taste new foods when they have had a hand in cooking them. So Connor created a cooking competition for Meadowbrook’s students to help develop, cook and judge dishes prepared with healthful ingredients. A roasted salmon salad with daikon radish, baby Napa cabbage and a wasabi vinaigrette was one of the winning recipes of the cook-off.

“We had an ‘Iron Chef’ competition with a students’ cooking group and we came up with this recipe with the help of our kitchen staff. The cooking class students were introduced to the ingredients. Then we put together three salads and had a judging on taste and presentation. The kitchen staff and myself, with the help of the students, made the salads. The students in the cooking group judged the renditions.

Our big thing was to try to introduce the kids to different things. A lot of them never had salmon before and wouldn’t necessarily pick it if there were chicken tenders [as an option]. But since they were involved in cooking and judging it they were like, ‘Wow.’ They really liked the salmon.

I found that when the kids were part of creating the food and saw it coming together, they were more apt to try it, which may not mean they liked it. A lot were skeptical. This gave us an opportunity to talk to them about what we are making. We told them that [we get] the salmon from a local fish house. It’s sustainable and farm raised, and we don’t just heat and serve.

We haven’t served the salmon recipe at the school yet because the kindergarteners would run away, but we will. There are kids here who eat the same thing every single day. With this there’s that pride factor. The kids keep asking, ‘When is our salmon dish being served?’ It’s a great tool to get them to try new foods.”

Roasted Salmon Salad

4 servings

1 lb. salmon, cut into 4-oz. portions
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp. wasabi powder
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1⁄2 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp. brown sugar
3⁄4 cup canola oil
1 large daikon radish, julienned
1 head bok choy, washed, julienned
1 small head Napa cabbage, ends removed, 4 leaves removed whole, rinsed clean
Black sesame seeds (optional for garnish)

  1. Season salmon with salt and pepper and roast on baking sheet in preheated 350°F oven for about 12 minutes, until internal temperature reaches 135°F.
  2. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for 1 hour, loosely covered with plastic wrap.
  3. While salmon is cooling, mix together wasabi, mustard, vinegar and brown sugar for dressing. Whisk vigorously until combined; slowly add oil while whisking. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  4. Mix together radish and bok choy in bowl and toss with desired amount of dressing.
  5. Place one cabbage leaf on plate and fill with bok choy mixture.
  6. Place cooled piece of salmon on top of bok choy mixture and garnish with black sesame seeds, if using. Top with more dressing to taste. 

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