March 2007 Edition
Spring Salads For All Day-Parts

Spring Salads for all Day-parts

 

Nothing says spring more than the fresh taste of salads.

 

Canadians are embracing the green leafy trend and ordering salads for lunches, main entrées and even for breakfast. 

 

Sales statistics show that bagged salads are the second biggest-selling item in grocery stores, and everyone from gourmet restaurants to fast-food franchises is cashing in on the salad market.

 

Capturing the health conscious salad consumer isn’t rocket science, but it does take a little innovation.  While some customers are still ordering the traditional Caesar salad, many have expanded their palate and are seeking new flavour trends, unique combinations and a satisfying meal. 

 

Turning Over a New Leaf

 

Until a few years ago, the average restaurant salad was made with iceberg lettuce, but that was before salad had undergone a leafy renaissance.  Mesclun mix, spinach, Asian greens and arugula leaves spiced up the market.  Throw in red leaf lettuce, curly endive, cabbage and other edible leaves, and the traditional garden salad is transformed into a colourful bowl of art. 

 

But colour is just the beginning.  Each leaf brings with it a unique flavour ranging from mild, to nutty, to bitter.  It’s the combination of the greens that adds depth to a salad and changes it from the everyday to exceptional.

 

Sometimes, you don’t need lettuce at all.  A hearty Asian or Japanese salad may consist of noodles instead of lettuce, while some Mediterranean and Middle Eastern salads such as Fattoush and Tabouli use herbs including parsley and mint instead of traditional greens.  Another simple yet elegant salad is the Italian tomato and mozzarella salad that consists of just the two main ingredients dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

 

Transforming Salads into Meals

 

Think of a salad as a wine pairing.  The leaves chosen for the foundation are the wine, but it’s what you eat it with that brings out the flavour and makes it memorable. 

 

Today’s salads venture beyond tomatoes, croutons and bacon bits.  Instead, salads are topped with exotic vegetables such as beets and jimaca, beans, seeds, nuts, and fruits and berries.  This doesn’t even begin to cover the main substance of the salad – the protein.

 

What makes a side salad a meal is generally the protein.  This can range from chicken and tuna, to shrimp and scallops, to beef tenderloin or steak.  Eggs and bacon

are also common additions.  Keep in mind that how the protein is served can vary to give you more salad varieties.  For example, chicken can be grilled, deep fried, spiced or chopped into chicken salad. 

 

Finishing Touches

 

Once the basics of the salad are complete, there are still some finishing touches that can make your salad unique.  A few sprigs of basil or mint can freshen up a plate, while a little cilantro can add a spicy edge.  Some chefs prefer to add a little exotic colour to their salads with edible flowers such as squash or chive blossoms.

 

Cheese is also a flavourful addition.  But be careful — cheese can either add the finishing touch or over-power the salad.  Cheddar or mozzarella is often used in more traditional green salads, while goat or blue cheese may be paired with more exotic salads such as those topped with pecans and strawberries.  Asiago and Parmesan go well if the salad consists primarily of bitter greens.

 

And finally there’s the dressing.  Because many of today’s salads are filled with complicated flavours, they are often best finished with minimalist dressings and vinaigrettes.  This is not to say that Ranch and Caesar dressings are no longer the trend.  These heavier styles still go well with more traditional greens and may also complement certain proteins such as a salad topped with crispy chicken strips or a Mexican style salad with beans, cheddar and bacon.

 

In some restaurants there has also been a rebirth of

the “wedge salad”.  This usually consists of a simple quarter head of iceberg lettuce drizzled with a creamy dressing and garnished with bacon, anchovies, shrimp

or other delicacies. 

However the salad is served, industry sales show it’s something on many customers’ minds and stomachs, making it a perfect menu option for spring. 

  

Lettuce Lingo 101:

 

Romaine

– a leafy green used most often in the classic Caesar.

Red or Green Leaf Lettuce

– loose, ruffled leaves that make an excellent salad on their own or a good foundation for a larger creation.

Oak Leaf

– adds a touch of panache, but has limited availability.

Butterhead Lettuce

– refers to a family of greens characterized by loosely packed, ruffled leaves

and sweetish flavour.  Bibb and Boston are two common varieties.

Curly endive

– also known as chicory, it adds a distinctive flair with its loose frilly leaves and bitter taste. 

Frisée

– narrow, pale-green leaves with jagged curly edges.  Also bitter in taste.

Swiss or Young Chard

– narrow fan-shaped leaves, but usually only the young leaves are used in tossed salads.

Radicchio

– resembles a small head of cabbage with reddish-purple leaves.

Mesclun

– a blend of gourmet greens that refers to the French word for “mixed field greens”. 

Mizuna

– a popular Japanese green with feathery, narrow leaves and a mild mustard flavour.