Experiment With Ethnic Inspired Entree Salads

With customers hungry for nutritious options that taste good too, chefs and restaurant owners are seeking global flavors. Salads are being elevated from the sidelines to the spotlight by giving them an international flair. A top-notch ethnic-inspired salad worthy of the main event gives diners a healthy option that will take them to different parts of the world through a variety of flavors and textures, innovative ingredients, and colorful presentation.

Traditional ethnic cuisine and nutrition both topped the list of the National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot for 2015 Culinary Forecast. Combining these two trends creates an opportunity for foodservice operators to capitalize on the popularity of salad as an entrée and expand upon current interest in ethnic cuisines. It is essential for chefs and restaurants to change with evolving palates to draw in customers and increase profits.

Add Some Grains
• Trending forward both in restaurants and retail space are grain-based salads. Go with grains such as bulgur, quinoa, and farro as the foundation for heaps of produce, proteins, and dressings. Ancient grains are new again; try amaranth, kamut, or freekeh.

All Dressed Up
Inject deep flavor into dressings and vinaigrettes by exploring the globe.
• Sesame oil gives a great boost to vinaigrettes with its nutty flavor. This oil is often used as a flavor enhancer in Chinese, Japanese, Middle Eastern, Korean, and Southeast Asian cuisine.
• Made from salted, fermented fish, fish sauce is an essential ingredient in many Southeast Asian dishes, adding depth to dressings when combined with garlic, chile peppers, lime juice, and sugar. The high level of glutamates in fish sauce creates a wonderful umami flavor.
• Try something different with exotic vinegars. Southeast Asian cuisine extensively utilizes coconut vinegar, made from the sap of a coconut tree or fermented coconut water. Also used heavily in Asian cuisine is rice vinegar. Subtle with a touch of sweetness, rice vinegar is an alternative to the more traditional white and red wine vinegars.
• Yogurt will impart a satisfying creaminess to dressings. Blend hot sauce and yogurt to dress up roasted vegetables, or take a page from Indian cooking to make a cool dressing similar to raita, the cucumber-yogurt condiment.

Punched-Up Protein
Protein will beef up any salad and elevate it to entrée status.
• For Asian-inspired salads, yuzu is the perfect seasoning for seafood. An aromatic and tart fruit from East Asia, it’s not as pungent as lime and has a little sweetness.
• Marinating chicken in bold flavors such as harissa will bring color and kick to any salad. Th is spicy North African chile paste is made primarily of tomatoes, chile peppers, and roasted peppers.
• Tofu is a blank canvas that can take on any flavor profile. For an Indian spin, marinate tofu in oil, curry powder, chili powder, turmeric, and lemon. Or go Korean with soy sauce, gochujang, Asian pear vinegar, sesame oil, garlic, and ginger.

Top it Off
Croutons aren’t the only way to introduce crunch to a salad; get excited with ethnic toppings.
• For some Mexican flair, pepitas (or pumpkin seeds) are a healthy addition that bring roasted flavors to the dish.
• Fattoush, the popular Lebanese salad with colorful vegetables in a flavor packed vinaigrette, uses toasted pita squares for a delightful crunch.
• Toast nuts to add depth of flavor and texture. Go a step further with candied nuts.