With a stunning 52% of all produce in the U.S. going uneaten according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, it is more important now than ever to feature a versatile assortment of produce on your menu. Lesser-known produce such as salsifies, turnips, and beets may look peculiar, but they offer flavorful properties that you would never expect from their appearance. With proper execution, diners will embrace the unknown when it comes to unfamiliar produce, increasing your bottom line and expanding their palates to a host of fresh new flavors along the way.
Adding underutilized root vegetables to your menu can emphasize seasonality and give entrées a healthy, earthy appeal. Whether diners have heard about or tried these vegetables or not, presenting them using noteworthy preparations can change your customers’ outlook on these ingredients. Encourage diners to try rare produce items by pairing them with more well known, esteemed ingredients to increase intrigue. For example, substitute turnips for potatoes by slicing and baking them as fries and list them as a healthy alternative. Or, pair familiar flavors with unknown produce by offering a side of thinly sliced parsnips baked with smoked salt and menu it as “veggie bacon,” or wrap parsnips in bacon for a trendy appetizer. You can also introduce guests to several unfamiliar produce items at once by roasting a medley of root vegetables and offering it as an à la carte side dish.
Pickling is another excellent way to entice customers with less common produce. It intensifies the flavor and increases the value of produce over time, allowing for higher price points. Consider pickling turnips with white vinegar, garlic, bay leaves, and beets, and serve them as a complement to Mediterranean cuisine such as gyro, falafel, or roasted chicken.
If you want to draw customers to new, unique produce items, you need to be mindful of how they are described on your menu. Recent research from Cornell University found that using descriptive menu-item labels increases food sales and improves customers’ attitudes toward both the food and the restaurant. Instead of simply listing a dish as “Beet Noodles with Egg,” use a more in-depth description such as, “Authentic Beet Pasta topped with Goat Cheese, Toasted Walnuts, and a Local Farm-Fresh Poached Egg.” Guests crave the transparency of knowing where their food comes from, how it’s grown, and how it affects the environment and are willing to pay top dollar for meals crafted with environmentally friendly ingredients. Because of this, it’s crucial to include verbiage such as “sustainable” and “authentic” in menu descriptions.
How to Use It
Find the profitability in lesser-known produce through these suggested applications.
With lumpy brown skin and a crisp, white interior, Jerusalem artichokes are actually unrelated to artichokes. They’re a species of sunflower and often referred to as “sunchokes.” This unfamiliar produce boasts a nutty flavor and is best served raw, chopped, or grated into salads, boiled or steamed for a side dish, or used in a soup.
- Jerusalem artichoke soup with wild mushroom tortellini
- Jerusalem artichokes roasted with shallots, garlic, tarragon, saffron, peppers, and lemon served with roasted chicken
- Roasted salmon with lemon juice, garlic, and roasted Jerusalem artichokes
Suggested Item: Jerusalem Artichokes/Sunchokes, Maines Produce Express #007176, 1/11 lb.
With a peak season of fall through spring, parsnips are taproots that look and taste like white carrots and have the texture of a sweet potato. Often used in savory applications alongside potatoes or as a potato substitute, parsnips have also been spotted in desserts such as parsnip and pecan cupcakes or chocolate tarts with a parsnip pastry cream.
• Roasted parsnip soup with walnut pesto
• Parsnip “hummus” made with tahini, cumin, lemon juice, and fiery chili oil, served with veggies, crackers, or pita
• Roasted parsnip bread pudding with brioche, grated cheese, leeks, and thyme
Suggested Item: Parsnips, Maines Produce Express #097535, 1/25 lb. bag
Often associated with colder northern climates, beets are available year-round and peak from March to October. With many different varieties, beets have the highest sugar content of any vegetable, adding bold, sweet flavor to many dishes.
• Beet-glazed salmon with an orange, fennel, and pecan salad
• Vegetarian beetroot and feta burger with roasted carrot hummus
• Beet ravioli with goat cheese, ricotta, and mint filling
• Roasted pickled beets in pita with hummus, carrots, radishes, and yogurt sauce
Gold Beets, Maines Produce Express #097028, 1/25 lb. bag
Candy Cane Beets, Maines Produce Express #097047, 1/25 lb. bag
Beets, Maines Produce Express #097049, 1/25 lb. bag
Turnips are sweet and can easily substitute as a healthy alternative to potatoes. They’re best when peeled, diced, or julienned. Turnip greens, the dark leaves on the turnip plant, can also be added to salads, soups, or saved for braising.
• Duck breast with turnips, mustard greens, and radishes
• Slow-cooked salmon with roasted turnips and Swiss chard
• Lamb chops, spinach, and turnip purée
• Braised turnips in butter, chicken stock, and cider vinegar
Suggested Item: Turnips, Maines Produce Express #097820, 1/25 lb. bag
Rutabagas have a yellow flesh with a distinctive, starchy cabbage-like flavor that’s similar to that of turnips. Dispose of the leaves, peel, and cut into quarters, slices, or cubes for best preparation.
• Celery root and rutabaga mash served with roasted chicken, turkey, or wine-braised short ribs
• Apple, rutabaga, butternut squash, carrot, and sweet potato soup
• Salmon with rutabaga noodles and herb sauce
• Rutabaga “chips” served with a creamy dip made with crème fraîche or sour cream, dill, and caraway seeds
Suggested Item: Rutabaga, Maines Produce Express #097720, 1/50 lb. box
With an appearance of a brown stick, salsifies are a part of the dandelion family and are a skinnier relative of the parsnip. The flavor is a cross between artichoke and celeriac. Salsifies pair well with parsley, garlic, and butter and are surprisingly versatile.
• Roasted duck, roasted salsify, and pancetta in jus topped with fried salsify ribbons
• Lamb with anchovy butter served with salsify and toasted walnuts
• Salsify with jerk seasoning, shallots, braised mushrooms, Jerusalem artichoke broth, and mushroom jam
Suggested Item: Salsify, Maines Produce Express #097731, 5 kilo
A bulbous stem vegetable, kohlrabi was created by crossbreeding cabbages and turnips. The taste is similar to turnips and can be substituted for turnips in many applications. This underrated, versatile vegetable can be grilled, roasted, glazed, or simply drizzled with olive oil and sea salt.
• Kohlrabi gratin with shallots, garlic, and Parmesan
• Scalloped kohlrabi with parsley and apple cider vinegar
• Julienned kohlrabi and arugula salad, dressed with sesame-ginger vinaigrette
• Kohlrabi stew with lamb shoulder, onion, broth, and cubed
kohlrabi bulbs with torn kohlrabi leaves
Suggested Item: Kohlrabi, Maines Produce Express #901279, 20 lb.
With an odd shape and distorted, brown exterior, celery root, also called celeriac, has a white, crunchy flesh that boasts a mild flavor similar to a cross between celery and parsley. Peel away the outer skin, then bake, broil, or steam the flesh and serve in soups, stews, salads, or alongside rich meats.
• Celery root and carrot soup with honey, coriander, ginger, and celery leaves for garnish
• Vegetarian celery root “steaks” with tomatillo salsa verde
• Celery root hash with sweet potatoes, thyme, cayenne, bacon, and chives
Suggested Item: Celery Root, Maines Produce Express #097133, 20 lb.
All produce items listed are available through Maines. Contact your Maines Territory Manager today to order these items and enhance your menu with unique produce.