While salad bars can be the heart of an operation promoting a plant-forward mission, they come with a responsibility. “Keeping that area seasonal is really important, because it’s the expectation,” says Matthew Cervay, system executive chef for Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pa. “Nobody wants to see the same carrots year-round, [or] the same tomatoes.” But, he adds, those changes can be simple and gratifying at the same time.
1. Dice up squash
In the summer, Cervay and his staff focus on fresh vegetables lightly roasted or sauteed and then chilled for the salad bar. When the weather turns cooler, zucchini and yellow squash can be diced and roasted, then chilled and tossed with olive oil, citrus or fresh herbs. “Now you have a nice roasted vegetable ... that fits in that salad bar category, but is a different way to build a salad,” Cervay says.
Oven-roasted butternut squash is a staple on the salad bar at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., says Julie Lampie, nutrition and marketing specialist for Tufts Dining. “Our butternut is locally grown and available year-round, so it’s a nice addition, especially during the fall and winter,” she says.
2. Get to the root
“We include a roasted vegetable every day on our salad bar rotation,” says Jim Meinecke, residential dining coordinator for Penn State Campus Dining in State College, Penn. “Oftentimes, our cooks prepare extra [from our cycle menu], and those leftovers are utilized on the salad bar.” Roasted and chilled seasonal options might include cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli and cauliflower, as well as root veggies like beets, carrots and parsnips.
When presenting less mainstream root veggies such as parsnips or rutabagas, it can help to incorporate them in a medley with something more accessible. At Penn State, one rotating option is a mix of carrots and parsnips glazed with spicy honey, Meinecke says.
3. Add grains and herbs
Cervay likes to dress up chilled roasted vegetables with whole grains such as wheat berries or barley. Fresh herbs such as rosemary, thyme and sage add a seasonal slant. “Depending on your ethnic flair, getting out of cumin and coriander and going to cardamom for a heavier, more robust flavor really goes a long way,” he says. “You can change your vinegars up in the fall to do an apple cider vinegar or a champagne vinegar.”
4. Present with panache
Though the DIY nature of salad bars makes them informal, presentation is still incredibly important, Cervay says. “Use garnishes with what you’re putting out there—toss [the vegetables] with fresh parsley and olive oil so it has a nice sheen to it,” he says. “When you do it properly, your whole salad bar really sings.”