May is National Salad Month, but refashioned salads often starring more affordable in-season ingredients sprout on restaurant menus all spring long. Some 81% of restaurants have at least one salad on their menus, according to Technomic’s MenuMonitor, so differentiating is essential. Now that spring has sprung, here are six techniques operators should keep in mind for revamping their spring salads.
1. Load up on spring produce
A third of consumers (33%) are more likely to purchase and are willing to pay more for salad described as seasonal, according to Technomic’s Left Side of the Menu: Soup & Salad Consumer Trend Report. And now is the time for operators to load up salads with a plethora of spring ingredients. The Counter’s Grilled Mahi Mahi Salad features spring ingredients such as green cabbage, artichokes and lemon (in a vinaigrette), as well as quinoa, cucumbers and tomatoes. Other mainstay spring flavors to try are scallions, asparagus, peas, rhubarb, zucchini, strawberry (May is also National Strawberry Month) and ginger, among others.
2. Grains go a long way
A third of 18-34-year-old consumers (34%) say they’re interested in trying more grain-based salads, according to the Technomic report. Try throwing quinoa, wheat berries and farro into the mix to add texture, substance and a health halo (as many of these grains are naturally gluten-free and rich in protein and fiber). Newk’s Eatery, for example, is serving a limited-time Kale & Quinoa Salad with dried cranberries, edamame and pecans in an apricot-ginger dressing. Global grains like farro will also contribute to ethnic authenticity.
3. Add cold noodles
Jump on early spring menus with noodle salads in March, also designated National Noodle Month. Ling & Louie’s Asian Bar & Grill is celebrating with its spring Shrimp & Mango Salad, topped with yakisoba noodles, shrimp, chicken, mango, cabbage, herbs, peanuts and miso-sesame vinaigrette. And P.F. Chang’s is participating with its Vietnamese Noodle Salad, featuring chilled rice noodles, julienned vegetables, crispy shallots, peanuts and garlic-lime dressing for $9.95.
4. Rework your classics
Operators can also differentiate classic salads like the wedge and Caesar to make them their own. P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, for example, recently did an Asian twist on a standard Caesar salad with traditional ingredients like romaine and Parmesan and Asian inspirations like toasted sesame seeds and wonton croutons. And Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar put a fine-dining twist on its Modern Caesar by adding fried capers and prosciutto chips to the standard ingredients.
5. Showcase an emerging ingredient
For operators to appeal to consumers’ adventurous side, try looking at some lesser-known spring ingredients. Cattails and fiddlehead ferns, for example, will be highlighted at Sable Kitchen & Bar in Chicago. Executive Chef Shane Graybeal specifically selected cattails instead of spring-regular ramps because he believes ramps are being wiped out and need time to re-harvest. And sorrel, a perennial herb that’s at its mildest in the spring, fares well raw in salads and mixed into dressings.
6. Brighten up with a lighter prep
Following on the hot cold poke salad trend, operators should try their hand at another light prep with similar appeal. Salads featuring proteins prepared tataki-style are another rising star. Tataki is a Japanese preparation in which fish or meat is marinated in vinegar, briefly seared over a hot flame and sliced thinly. The Cheesecake Factory has jumped on the trend with its Seared Tuna Tataki Salad.