Veg at the Center
Meals centered on produce are surging in popularity with chefs and diners alike, and for good reason. Plant-based products allow a platform for chefs to get creative with both seasonal and regional offerings, while providing a higher margin to the restaurant and higher satisfaction for customers. The versatility of the category lends itself to a broad spectrum of cooking methods, flavor profiles and audience appeals to tap into – cultivating a unique, delightful culinary experience with every plate.
The Whole Package
The range of taste, textures and visual enticement offered by produce items makes them a desirable kitchen staple. Chefs are utilizing an array of cooking methods to add even more interest — from sautéing and roasting to grilling and marinating.
- Trending in the culinary scene is the use of fermentation, the flavor base for dishes like kimchi pork tacos as well as pickled vegetable salad toppings and, of course, delicious sauerkraut.
- Finding harmony amongst the five flavor profiles of sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami is an art, executed well and thoughtfully by chefs who know how to highlight them and elate the taste buds.
- The mighty mushroom is a hero of umami, thanks to its meaty taste and texture. Stuffed Portabellos can be COP stars, paired with spring greens like spinach, Fontina cheese, and toasted pine nuts.
As wellness is at the forefront of individual priority, it makes sense to shed light on the vast health benefits produce encompasses. The nutrient density of fruits and vegetables is second to none, packing a wealth of vitamins in every bite – one key to a healthy lifestyle.
- Avocados are becoming increasingly more mainstream as national restaurant chains add them to their menus, capitalizing on the healthy fats they offer.
- Similarly, kale continues to gain traction, attributed to powerhouse levels of vitamin C, vitamin A, fiber and potassium.
- The lesser known, added value of produce-centric dishes lies in their roots, literally.
Plant-based foods appeal to a large scope of consumers, particularly those who adhere to dietary restrictions or are concerned about food allergies, food sensitivities, and the like.
Culinary creations that take on global influence allow diners to experience regional style cuisine. Ethnic cuisine relies heavily on spices, marinades and herbs; these enhancements help veggies successfully take the place of a salt-and-pepper seasoned steak.
- Bring out the curry powder, and couple cauliflower curry with green peas for a new springtime favorite, courtesy of India.
- For a Moroccan adventure, roast new potatoes, radishes and cauliflower, accented with fresh mint, cumin, cinnamon and ginger.
- Rather visit Italy? Make vignole (spring veggie stew): peas, spinach or chard, artichokes, fava beans, onion and garlic in broth sprinkled with fresh parsley and mint. If desired, also try sautéing the onions first with a bit of pancetta or prosciutto.
Stir-Fries, Bowls, Pizza
- An innovative mix of baby red chard, kale and wild arugula makes Markon’s Ready-Set-Serve® (RSS) Urban Blend™ perfect — and perfectly easy — for stir fries or more inspired, resourceful entrée salads. Cross-utilize products like Urban Blend in different areas of the menu.
- Many “salads” can be tossed into an ethnic bowl, used as a garnish, or braised as a side vegetable. Kale Color Crunch™ (RSS) is another go-to option for a colorful plate — combining kale with shaved Brussels sprouts, Napa and red cabbages, carrots and radicchio. These two products are also the beginning of great (and trendy) bowls with ramen, rice or grains like faro.
- For delightful risotto, start with Arborio rice and add spring peas, RSS diced onions and Markon First Crop® mushrooms; top with grated Parmesan and halved, soft-boiled eggs.
- For a lighter option, consider replacing rice with (RSS) Cauli Creations; it’s already washed and finely cut to reduce prep time.
- Or, rethink your classic pizza crust and create a trendy, nutritious alternative by replacing the carb layer with cauliflower. Pizza is a growing category across the board, with chains venturing into quick service and investing in wood-fired pizza ovens. Produce aligns seamlessly with this effort and is a key element in tying the pie together.
The wholesome nutrition provided by produce is one major cause for the Meatless Monday initiative. Offering a variety of produce-centric COP can attract fans of flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan diets. It also avoids the veto vote: losing a whole table when one person in a party is veg/vegan. Keep these strategies in mind to cash in on the benefits, appeal and application of produce items:
- Increase the proportion of veggies to proteins in pasta sauces, stews and pizzas.
- Plate vegetarian and vegan COP, incorporating specialty delights such as artichokes, leeks, green garlic, new potatoes and radishes.
- Speak to your Shamrock Foods Sales Representative about providing inspiration for veg-centric dishes that align with your operation’s menu.
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