Fresh, crisp vegetables and just-picked fruit are one of the timeless delights of the growing and harvesting season. Salads are one of the most flexible and popular ways to showcase the produce of summer and early autumn. Not only do they make the most of freshness with
raw fruit and vegetables, but they also offer endless combinations and unrivalled visual appeal with a huge range of colour and texture.
Because fresh produce varies by season, so can your salad menu. Health conscious consumers want more fruit and vegetables in their diet, and this trend is widely promoted by Health Canada’s new food guide, as well as by health associations such as the Canadian Cancer Society and the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
Different interpretations of salads can be incorporated at every meal. Fruit and yoghurt parfaits, fruit crepes, or light and leafy adaptations of eggs Florentine’s classic poached egg and spinach combination bring fresh produce to the breakfast table. Entrée salads make perfect summer lunches, often pairing crunchy fresh greens with cheese, grains or protein, topped with dressings that borrow from cuisines such as Thai, southwest or Caribbean. At dinner, a salad can take a sophisticated turn with exotic greens and signature dressings, and can even become a main dish with the right additions, such as seared tuna and ginger.
The Canadian Produce Marketing Association suggests several tips for serving fresh produce:
• Interactive presentations that let the customer build their own meal at the table can include stuffed pitas and fajitas. Lettuce wraps and fruit crepes are other build-your-own options.
• Vegetables and dip are a simple, flavourful way to serve fresh seasonal produce, and can be a colourful and economical appetizer. The CPMA suggests changing
the vegetable assortment weekly to reflect seasonal availability, and promoting the fresh seasonal aspect to customers. A selection of fruit served with dips can make a similar splash on a dessert menu.
• Imaginative, vertically oriented garnishes made of vegetables can promote dishes by boosting visual interest not just for the diner, but also for other customers who see the dish carried through the restaurant.
• Freshly squeezed fruit juices and vegetable cocktails are a great all-day menu choice, and are a perfect use for visually imperfect produce.
Salads also offer opportunities to add new flavour influences to your menu with dressings and dips. From flavoured mayonnaise tweaked with garlic, chilli and horseradish, to Asian-inspired dressings balancing exotic heat with a sweet finish, dressings can bring new life to greens. The Association for Dressings and Sauces (ADS) reports that ranch dressing remains the number one choice, followed by blue cheese, Italian, French and thousand island. Vinaigrettes, including olive oil, balsamic, and red wine versions, are also top sellers, but there is also plenty of room for innovative, signature dressings that incorporate food trends.
The ADS report on salad dressing and sauce trends identifies taste, heat and cool palate sensations and regional cuisines as continuing influences on flavours, with ingredients such as cilantro, mustard, wasabi, sea salt, sesame and lemon grass taking more prominent roles. Favourite combinations from ADS chefs include plum, ginger, mango and habanero peppers, or lime, cilantro, ginger, garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil.
Both the CPMA and the ADS offer recipes as well as tips for handling, preparing and serving salad and produce in the foodservice industry.
There are as many reasons to eat more fruits and vegetables as there are ways to serve them. Even customers who have turned a deaf ear to messages from Health Canada, the Canadian Cancer Society, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation to eat five to ten servings a day, may have a keen interest in new food trends and exotic tastes, and few people can deny the lure of the fresh, seasonal produce at the peak of its flavour.
For recipe resources visit:
The Canadian Produce Marketing Association www.cpma.ca
The Association for Dressings and Sauces http://dressings-sauces.org/
5 to 10 a Day www.5to10aday.com
What goes with green?
Add interest and appeal to a basic tossed salad with seasonal, international or meal-building ingredients.
Leaves beyond lettuce – leafy vegetables that add colour, flavour or contemporary flair can bring house salad up to date. Arugula, rocket, basil or coriander leaves add flavour highlights. The Canadian Produce Marketing Association suggests rapini, bok choy, celeriac and kale.
Best of the season – adding ingredients such as grilled asparagus, fresh sweetcorn, local spinach or field tomatoes at the peak of their season is an easy way to vary your salad menu.
Fruit – pear, blueberries, mango, grapefruit, cranberries, grapes, strawberry and apple are just a few of the fruits that can bring greens to life.
Nuts – walnuts, sunflower seeds, pecans, pine nuts and slivered almonds
Beans – Chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans or other pulses
Grains – pasta, rice, noodles, croutons, cracked wheat, cous cous
Dairy – Eggs, yoghurt and cheese can enhance a salad. From shredded Monterey Jack or cubed feta to plump bocconcini or crumbled Danish blue, cheeses and fresh greens are a natural combination.
Protein – Bacon or proscuitto can add strong savoury notes to greens, but meat or fish can also bring a salad to centre plate. Grilled chicken has become a modern standby, but more restaurants are offering a range of choices as salad toppers, such as seared tuna, shrimp skewers, or thinly sliced beef tenderloin.
By Mary Gordon