Question: How can I make salads more interesting for my vegan customers? I’d like to serve salads as vegan entrées, appetizers, or side dishes, but they can get pretty boring, especially when produce isn’t the freshest or is in-between seasons.
Answer: The salad course of the meal, whether it is an entrée, accompaniment, appetizer, or a dessert can fit into an exciting vegan menu. In season, green salads are great refreshers and look pretty on the plate. (But if you’re attempting to hold salads in the refrigerator as grab-and-go items, or pre-making salads for catering events, fresh greens can sometimes wilt on you.)
On the other hand, frozen, canned, and dried products can be very forgiving. They are available in the same high quality year round and will retain their color, shape, and texture while being held and transported. Frozen vegetables can be crisped and hold their color well. Fruit frozen without sugar and unsweetened fruit juice concentrates, dried fruit, and fruit canned with juice or water are appropriate for vegan menus. Canned vegetables may be softer than fresh or frozen vegetables, adding more variety to the texture of the salad.
Salads from the pantry are a snap. We especially like to use green beans, wax beans, and beets as starter ingredients. Try a dish of lowfat sweet and sour green beans, wax beans, or beets made with a cornstarch, vinegar, orange juice concentrate, and soy sauce dressing. Prepare this dish hot and let it chill as a cold salad before serving.
Green beans tossed with a small amount of chopped vegan ham or smoked vegan turkey slices and tossed with canned mushrooms and silken tofu or unflavored soy yogurt is a soft, creamy, savory salad. Try the same salad with green beans, carrots, chopped parsley, and silken tofu or unflavored soy yogurt for a different color and flavor.
Soy yogurt, soy sour cream, or silken tofu can be tossed with sliced canned carrots or cooked, chilled frozen carrots and canned garbanzos or kidney beans, a little dill, some vinegar, and some chopped onions to create a salad. For a softer texture, finely chop the carrots and partially purée the garbanzo beans. You can also completely purée this salad to make a cold dip for veggies and bread sticks. (It will resemble Middle Eastern hummus.)
How about a corn salad? This can be served as both a cold side dish or as a vegan cold condiment instead of high-fat gravies or sauces. Combine canned (or frozen, cooked and chilled) cut corn with canned sliced pimentos, chopped parsley, green onions, and bell peppers and toss with vinaigrette.
We love the idea of “Texas Caviar,” also known as a cold black-eyed pea salad. Canned black-eyed peas are drained, rinsed, and tossed with chopped onion and green bell pepper and barely dressed with oil and vinegar dressing. Prepare this with freshly cooked, frozen, thawed, or canned black-eyed peas.
Canned peas (or frozen, cooked and chilled peas) can be mixed with unflavored soy yogurt or soy sour cream, garlic powder, and canned water chestnuts to make a smooth and crunchy salad. Use the yogurt or sour cream with a four- or five-bean-salad instead of the traditional oil and vinegar. Choose from cut green beans, wax beans, green peas, lima beans, kidney beans, white beans, red beans, and garbanzo beans, or black beans to create pantry bean salads. For a smoother texture, this type of salad can be partially puréed. You could even purée this salad and use it as a lowfat dip for vegetables or bread sticks.
Remember that avocados and fruit are your “friends” for salads. Mash avocado, and season it with onion and garlic powder and a small amount of chopped canned tomatoes. (You can also use frozen avocado pulp.) You can pack this mixture into a loaf pan and make an avocado “pate” to serve sliced over fresh or steamed, chilled green spinach.
Canned peaches, pears, plums, and apricots can be finely chopped and tossed with unflavored soy yogurt seasoned with cinnamon, ginger, or nutmeg for a sweet salad or light dessert. Spoon this over frozen melon balls and frozen berries.
Peeled and seeded cucumber can be finely chopped, tossed with yogurt, onion powder, lemon juice, and black pepper for a soft salad. Mix with chopped canned tomatoes for extra color. Use vegetable juice cocktail combined with soy yogurt and freshly chopped herbs to make a creamy tomato dressing with pizzazz.
Pasta and potato salads can be made vegan and fun. Cook the pasta a bit past al dente and the potatoes until they are fork-tender. Toss pasta or potatoes with minced canned carrots and mild salsa for a fast and flavorful salad. Experiment with different shapes and types of pasta. Ditilini, small shells, penne, rotini, farfalle (bow ties), and orzo are interesting small shapes. Check with your supplier for spinach, carrot, or tomato-flavored pasta. How about a sweet potato salad? Drain and rinse canned sweet potatoes and cut into uniform small pieces. Create a dressing for them by mincing canned pineapple and peaches and mixing with strawberry flavored soy yogurt, soy sour cream mixed with fruit preserves, or silken tofu blended with fruit juice.
Wondering how to stuff a salad? Use a scooped-out tomato, onion, pepper, or small zucchini as a carrier for bean, pasta, rice, and potato salad. Instead of mayonnaise, try unflavored soy yogurt, soy sour cream, or silken tofu blended with a small amount of lemon juice, chopped onions, and white pepper. Peach halves and pineapple rings can be stuffed with fruit-flavored soy yogurt, sweetened tofu, or firm tofu tossed with fruit juice and chopped frozen (thawed) strawberries or chopped canned peaches or apricots.
Whimsy in the name will intrigue your customers and get them interested in the salad part of the meal. A local school district has named its spinach salad with vinaigrette “Popeye and Olive Oyl Salad” and its broccoli and cauliflower floret mix “Trees and Clouds.” Offer a summer Chef’s salad made with frozen melon balls and fresh berries or a winter Chef’s salad with green and wax beans as the base instead of chopped lettuce. An old standby of dairy restaurants in New York and Chicago is “Farmer’s Chop Suey,” a combination of the cook’s choice of chopped vegetables served with a scoop of sour cream and a scoop of cottage cheese. Veganize this old standard with a scoop of potato salad and some soy sour cream. Hold a contest to create names for your new salad offerings.
To maintain salad interest, offer unusual combinations like a strawberry and spinach salad.
Combine fresh baby spinach with sliced fresh or frozen strawberries and toss with oil and vinegar flavored with ginger and lemon juice. Add teriyaki tofu or seitan pieces to a canned pear Waldorf salad. Replace the traditional apples and celery with canned pears and canned or frozen petite baby peas. Toss frozen, cooked and chilled yellow squash and zucchini together with a soy yogurt, sour cream, or silken tofu dressing flavored with chopped fresh parsley for a springtime combination.
For other dressings, use reserved liquid from drained fruit to thin mayonnaise-based dressings; this will cut down on the calories from fat, while replacing some flavor. Purchase vegan mayonnaise or prepare your own with silken tofu, lemon juice, dry mustard, and black pepper. Oil, vinegar, sweetener, soy sauce, and prepared mustard all make good marinades for fresh or canned veggies.
Green salads are cool, crisp, and receptive to change! Build a basic salad with head and leaf lettuce, baby greens, endive, radicchio, and cabbage and then go wild.
For an Entrée, add:
Cold black, white, kidney, lentil, and red beans
Smoked, barbecued, baked, or grilled tofu
Sliced veggie deli meats
Bean and salsa combinations
Hummus and olive combinations
Grilled or marinated mushrooms
Cold vegan ravioli, tortellini, and gnocchi
Chopped walnuts, pistachios, pine nuts, and cashews
Cold lentils tossed with mushrooms and tomatoes
For a Side Dish, add:
Green and wax beans
Chopped onions, radishes, tomatoes, garlic, olives
Shredded carrots, beets, zucchini, crookneck squash
Chopped pickled vegetables
Sliced marinated or fresh mushrooms
Chopped nuts, such as walnuts, peanuts, and cashews or pumpkin and sesame seeds
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