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Twists and toppings can up the salad experience for diners

Salads aren’t just for dieters anymore. Consumers who are looking for healthier and functional dining options are adding salads to meals, or opting for salads as meals when dining out at restaurants. A few twists on salads can take them to the next level. The difference between a ‘salad” and a ‘bowl” can be in their size, and the amount of protein, rice or grain ingredients relative to greens and vegetables. In functionality, protein is a big winner and “protein bowls” have become more widespread. Tofu, chicken and beef can satisfy a protein craving, but so too can legumes and beans. Root vegetables are finding a bigger place at the table. Jicama, beets, yuca, kohlrabi, turnips and daikon are ingredients that can be used to liven up the flavor and texture of salads.

One can’t go wrong with adding cheese to select salads. Burrata, a semi-soft Italian cheese prepared with cream and curd, has been all the rage as of late and appears in many starters and salads. The Tomato Salad at Himitsu combines heirloom tomatoes, burnt herb sauce, wasabi soy vinaigrette, shiso, burrata and pine nuts. Manchego cheese, an aged cheese from the La Mancha region of Spain, has been growing on American consumers. Its firmness, combined with its creamy mouth texture, is a popular addition to salads. At True Food Kitchen, manchego cheese is added to the Grilled Chicken Salad, which already has a medley of juxtaposed flavors in its ingredients: medjool date, dried cranberry, jicama, apple, farro, marcona almond, and champagne vinaigrette.

At neighborhood spots and emerging chains, a variation on favorites can also be a winning strategy. At True Food Kitchen, the Tuscan Organic Kale Salad is elevated with grated Grana Padano Italian cheese that is hard and slow-ripened and similar to parmesan. Small tweaks to popular favorites can be enticing as menus change seasonally and there is room for experimentation. A lot of the appeal of menus can be found in the descriptors, as restaurateurs have known to be true for ages. Cheese mousse is a twist on cheese, typically made by blending cream, cheese and milk. Lyon Hall, a French- and German-style brasserie in Arlington, Va. offers a Roasted Baby Beets salad, served with chèvre mousse.

True Food Kitchen salad: Eatery Pulse Streem

True Food Kitchen Organic Kale Tuscan Salad. Photo via True Food Kitchen.

Ancient grains and seeds in salads

Grains are turning many salads into meals in a bowl. Depending on the use of grains, they can inspire a whole new section on the menu, or simply make salads more hearty. “Everything old is now new.” That’s particularly accurate these days as consumers want to connect with the authenticity and story of food. Quinoa, which is not a grain, but a seed, is an example of an ingredient that can make a salad or dish more interesting.

Not quite a protein bowl, and not quite a salad, The Curry Chickpea Bowl at Sweetgreen, is a hearty combination of chicken, nuts and vegetables. It features warm quinoa and hot chickpeas, shredded carrots, shredded cabbage, raisins, cilantro, toasted almonds, organic baby spinach and curry yogurt dressing. The bowl is more of a meal than a salad, but the ingredients can offer inspiration to other restaurants of fast-casual or sit-down heritage and service style.

Sweet, tart, herbal and crunchy: The Curry Chickpea Bowl is the type of meal that diners will remember. Quinoa will see more share of menu in the winter months, as cold salads turn into warm salads, and bowls turn heartier. Farro, Barley and Buckwheat (not a grain, but adopted as one) have been growing on menus, according to a report from research and trend analysis firm Datassential. Millet and Barley are tried-and true ingredients for salads due to texture.

Chia and pepita (pumpkin seeds) are widely-recognized, full of crunchiness and deep color, and are good additions to salads. Datassential notes that Chia is nutrient dense and has grown dramatically over the last few years. Chia still has room to grow on menus as it only has about a one-percent penetration. Pepita seeds are also nutritious and offer a way to provide texture and taste to salads.

Photo credit: True Food Kitchen

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