Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

Salad Spinners Inspirations for salad builds with a modern flavor narrative

Za’atar-spiced Aussie lamb loin adds substance to the fattoush salad, which also features the traditional tomatoes, cucumbers and radishes—as well as sumac and mint leaves for distinctive flavor.
PHOTO CREDIT: True Aussie Beef & Lamb

Salads used to score a lot of points with consumers because of their fresh, wholesome promise. But with modern bowls fulfilling a similar promise, the salad category has had to re-examine its value proposition. Taking a cue from bowls, modern salad development focuses around building a strong flavor narrative, upping textural interest, deepening complexity and relieving palate fatigue. Commodity boards have devoted a lot of resources toward developing recipes that capture all of that in a salad bowl. We asked a handful of them for their favorite builds—ones that can either be duplicated or translated onto a number of different menus.

Za’atar Spiced Lamb Fattoush Salad and Persian Feta

A classic Eastern Mediterranean salad, fattoush can provide an array of options for salad adaptations today. Typically featuring stale, toasted or fried flatbread, seasonal vegetables and tangy dressing, translating this salad helps leverage the red-hot exploration of Eastern Med flavors. This Za’atar Spiced Lamb Fattoush Salad and Persian Feta, created by Scott Pickett, chef/owner of Estelle Bistro in Melbourne, Australia, features a za’atar-spiced Aussie lamb loin over a mix of vine-ripened tomatoes, Lebanese cucumbers, radishes and purslane sprigs seasoned with sumac and mint leaves and toasted pita bread. Persian feta, pomegranate seeds and baby mint leaves garnish the salad. “The sumac adds a signature acidity and a flavor that I think is catching on here in the U.S.,” says Catherine Golding, business development manager for True Aussie Beef & Lamb. “Fattoush is ripe for adaptation to American menus. The Mediterranean flavors are definitely in demand, it reads ‘healthy’ and adapts easily to incorporate seasonal veggies.”

Ginger Tofu Dressing

Silken tofu adds creaminess to the dressingThe Soyfoods Council

Silken tofu adds creaminess to the dressing

Dressings are fundamental for modern, flavorful salads and can oftentimes be the most laborious part of the creation. The effort pays off in this arugula-kale salad of candied walnuts, bacon and roasted sweet potatoes, topped with a Ginger Tofu Dressing, created by Tag Grandgeorge, chef of Le Jardin in Des Moines (taking top honors in the 2017 Soy Salad Dressing Recipe Competition). Silken tofu adds a unique note to the Asian-inspired dressing, prepared with both white- and rice-wine vinegars along with a blend of seasonings, all emulsified by a combination of canola and soybean oils. The tofu contributes both creaminess and high-quality plant protein. “The dressing is compatible with plant-based menus, vegan and vegetarian salads as well as seafood or poultry salads,” says food writer Gail Bellamy on behalf of The Soyfoods Council. “It marries well with healthful ingredients such as sweet potatoes, walnuts and kale, and it inspires simple adaptations, such as whisking in mashed fresh avocado.”

Warm Potato Salad

Warm toppings gently wilt the arugulaPotatoes USA

Warm toppings gently wilt the arugula

The notion of a salad as a dish primarily served cold can limit creativity. This Warm Potato Salad provides a modern take on the classic conception of salad, blending the boundaries of salad and entrée in delicious new light. “The definition of salad is expanding, and this warm salad option proves that most entrées comprised of a protein, starch and vegetable can be transformed into a salad composition,” says RJ Harvey, global foodservice marketing manager for Potatoes USA. The cooked new potatoes are tossed with a marinade of seasonings such as lime, cumin, garlic and cilantro, then sautéed with chorizo and tomatoes. Grilled chicken adds an additional protein and, together with the crispy, soft potatoes, tops a bed of arugula, giving it a slight wilting from the heat. Hearty and comforting, this warm salad also offers a seasonal alternative to any cold salad.

Lentil Salad with Kale, Roasted Grapes and Mushrooms

Roasted grapes add pops of sweetnessCalifornia Table Grape Commission

Roasted grapes add pops of sweetness

Showcasing how salads can range in composition and appearance, this Lentil Salad with Kale, Roasted Grapes and Mushrooms features a wonderful combination of ingredients, both cooked and raw, that offers strong visual appeal and a modern display of sweet and savory. Squash, shallots, mushrooms, grapes and sage are tossed with olive oil and salt, then roasted together. This blend is then tossed with fresh kale to slightly wilt the greens, then lentils are added. The salad is dressed with an orange vinaigrette that features browned butter in the orange juice reduction. “Grapes are used to offer refreshing contrast to the other ingredients and deliver a juicy, delicate sweetness that elevates the flavor notes in this salad,” says Courtney Romano, foodservice consultant for the California Table Grape Commission. “Although a workable vegetarian dish, a protein of almost any type could be added to further increase the heartiness of this salad.”

Grilled Chicken Salad with Honey Jalapeño Vinaigrette

Honey and Jalapeño make the dressing hum with flavorNational Honey Board

Honey and Jalapeño make the dressing hum with flavor

Dressings help bring home the crave factor. This Grilled Chicken Salad with Honey Jalapeño Vinaigrette delivers the hot honey trend perfectly. The vinaigrette is used first to marinate the chicken, which is then grilled and placed atop the baby spinach. Monterey Jack cheese, tomatoes and crumbled bacon are added and drizzled with the Honey Jalapeño Vinaigrette. “Honey plays a dual role in the dressing, serving as an all-natural emulsifier and providing the perfect balance of sweet to jalapeño’s heat,” says Catherine Barry, the National Honey Board’s director of marketing. “The delicious combination of fresh ingredients creates the perfect, flavor-forward, ‘clean’ modern salad.” Customization opportunities are numerous with this salad. Chefs can substitute the grilled chicken with a crispy fried chicken, swap the spinach for mixed greens and replace the Monterey Jack with a number of cheeses. A signature hot honey dressing brings any of these options to life.

Harvest Egg Salad

Curry is a bold addition to egg saladAmerican Egg Board

Curry is a bold addition to egg salad

Classic egg salad blossoms from basic to bold in this contemporary take on picnic fare. Layers of flavor and texture are co-mingled into a colorful, inviting salad. Coarsely chopped hard-boiled eggs, diced roasted chicken and apple are mixed with a creamy, curry-based sauce. For a modern presentation, this Harvest Egg Salad is served on toasted pita triangles over a layer of peppery arugula and garnished with toasted pecans, pomegranate seeds and scallions. “One of the beauties of this recipe is that the garnishes can easily be switched out and replaced with other ingredients on hand—from pepitas and sunflower kernels to dried cranberries or cherries. The sauce can also be easily modified by replacing the curry powder with another spice mixture,” says Phaedra Ruffalo, senior director of market development for the American Egg Board. The dish can also be switched into a bowl format by adding more greens, or served in pita pockets for a handheld offering.

Pear, Potato, Green Bean and Bacon Salad

Canned pear juice is also used in the dressingPacific Northwest Canned Pear Service

Canned pear juice is also used in the dressing

In any foodservice operation, cross-utilization is key. In this Pear, Potato, Green Bean and Bacon Salad, canned pears take center stage with a balancing sweetness to the hearty build of roasted potatoes, green beans and turkey bacon. As a bonus, the reserved pear juice forms the base of the Pear Dijon Vinaigrette, blended with apple cider vinegar, Dijon mustard and seasonings. “The combined use of the pears and the reserved juice for sweetness and the apple cider vinegar for acid make the dressing a strong complement to the savory-sweet flavors in the salad. Plus, the use of canned pears saves time poaching and peeling pears,” says Susan Renke, promotion director for Pacific Northwest Canned Pear Service. “For a signature twist, this salad could be altered by switching broccolini for the green beans or upping the spice profile with harissa or curry.”

Avocado Grains & Greens Salad

Wheat berries, pearl barley and couscous add heftAvocados from Mexico

Wheat berries, pearl barley and couscous add heft

As the concept of “salad” evolves on menus, we’re seeing much more play with grains adding heft to modern salad builds. In this Avocado Grains & Greens Salad, a trio of wheat berries, pearl barley and couscous is tossed with avocado oil, lemon, parsley, mint and cilantro to create a fragrant and hearty base. Creamy avocado, cucumber, tomato and arugula add freshness, color and texture. “Grain salads and bowls are all the rage right now, and avocados are a wonderful addition to meld grains with other ingredients,” says Mark Garcia, head of marketing, foodservice and culinary for Avocados From Mexico. Topped off with a rich tahini dressing, this Mediterranean-inspired salad can serve both as a vegetarian entrée and an easy side dish with heart-healthy ingredients and bright texture and flavor.

Asparagus Salad with Country Ham and Lemon Ricotta

Savory notes from country ham satisfy the palateNational Pork Board

Savory notes from country ham satisfy the palate

Savory country ham contrasts with vibrant beet-pickled hard-boiled eggs in this Asparagus Salad with Country Ham and Lemon Ricotta, created by Stephen Barber, executive chef at Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch in St. Helena, Calif. The savory and acidic flavors are paired with lemon zest ricotta, adding a refreshing creaminess to the build, while potato roll croutons and shredded carrots offer textural variation. “This is a beautiful composed salad with big flavor. It features premium ingredients that are thoughtfully curated to create a balanced dish,” says Stephen Gerike, assistant VP, channel marketing for the National Pork Board. “The salty, umami-rich sliced country ham and the acidic notes from the cheese and pickled eggs all complement the earthy asparagus.” Though the base of this salad features fresh asparagus—peeled and blanched—the dish could easily be composed over greens or, alternatively, over farro, bulgur or quinoa in a bowl build to provide a heartier salad or entrée option.

Watermelon Salad with Crema and Cotija

Cotija and crema offer a creamy contrast to watermelonCalifornia Milk Advisory Board

Cotija and crema offer a creamy contrast to watermelon

This Watermelon Salad with Crema and Cotija rides high on the trending use of savory watermelon, expressed to its fullest in a salad form. Giorgio Rapicavoli, chef/owner of Eating House, an eclectic restaurant in Coral Cables, Fla., uses a refreshing base of watermelon, shallots and cilantro, and drizzles it with a rich, creamy dressing of California crema, olive oil, lime juice, salt and sugar. A sprinkling of California Cotija cheese and corn nuts add flavor, crunch and visual appeal, along with bright garnishes: sliced radishes, jalapeños, cilantro and lime. “This salad can also be used in wraps, tacos, as a base for falafel-stuffed pita sandwiches, in gyros, or as a side relish with grilled meat, poultry or seafood,” says Jennifer Giambroni, director of communications for the California Milk Advisory Board, highlighting the versatility of this salad and its pairing potential with protein.

Spiced Walnut and Olive Salad

Pan-fried walnuts add surprising crunch and spiceOlives from Spain

Pan-fried walnuts add surprising crunch and spice

High-impact ingredients with a Spanish twist give this Spiced Walnut and Olive Salad a modern appeal. Piquillo peppers and Spanish manchego, along with arugula, are dressed with a mustard-based vinaigrette amped up with meaty, briny Queen olives. For a flavorful heartiness and crunch, pan-fried walnuts are tossed with cardamom, cinnamon, fennel seed, cumin and brown sugar. “This dish can be customized using spices to your liking, so that you can achieve different nuances and a surprising taste,” says Paula Sanchez, representing Olives From Spain. “It provides a great light entrée or the perfect accompaniment to your main courses.”

  From the Mar/Apr 2018 issue of Flavor & the Menu magazine. Read the full issue online or check if you qualify for a free print subscription.



About The Author


Eliza Amari is special projects editor for Flavor & The Menu.