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Moving produce to the center of the plate

baked cauliflower

It’s time to think again about filling consumers’ plates with the traditional “meat and three.”

Increasingly, diners are demanding vegetables take center stage. The trend extends not just to full-time vegetarians and vegans, but also to a growing number of omnivores looking to add plant-based foods to their diets.

Some 37% of consumers say they’re more likely to visit a restaurant with healthy options, according to Technomic’s 2016 Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report. About a quarter (23%) of consumers say they’re willing to pay more for vegetarian food, Technomic found.

Currently, more than half of all operators offer vegetarian dishes, and “vegan” is the fastest-growing health claim at fast casuals, according to Technomic.

So, how can smart operators beef up their veggie-friendly offerings? Flavor is key. Just because a dish is plant-based doesn’t mean it should taste like the dieter’s special.

California Pizza Kitchen, for example, launched Spicy Buffalo Cauliflower as a permanent menu item. It features buttermilk batter-dipped cauliflower that’s fried, tossed in Sriracha-buffalo sauce and topped with celery, Gorgonzola and cilantro.

Hard Rock Cafe rolled out an LTO vegetarian menu that included a similar buffalo-style cauliflower dish as well as Ratatouille Flatbread and an innovative Cauliflower Burger made with goat cheese, egg, garlic and breadcrumbs.

Vegetable-focused dishes are also a good place to explore on-trend global flavors. Infuse grilled or roasted vegetables or legumes with spice blends such as Middle Eastern za’atar, Egyptian dukka or sweet-smoky vadouvan from India.

As with flavor, be sure to explore the range of textures vegetables can provide. From crisp and raw to creamy purees to deep-fried and roasted, different cooking techniques will bring out the unique character of each vegetable.

Focus on menuing in-season vegetables for the best flavor and appearance. Or explore trendy pickling options to preserve produce and add yet another flavor dimension to each plate.

This post is sponsored by Campbell's Foodservice

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