March 17, 2014 |

Get healthy with a variety of meats and proteins

By Jeffrey Freehof

Sundried pizza saladFlavorful meats and proteins address dietary needs

With more attention than ever being placed on healthy menu options, operators are turning to products that are made from healthier ingredients. I’ve noticed how much attention the Mediterranean diet is getting with its health benefits. Most folks don’t usually stick with healthy dining because it can be too bland and blasé and folks simply get bored and turn quickly back to their old routine. Let’s take this challenge seriously.

There are some great ways for us to incorporate healthy meats and other great choices that taste fantastic. This will show our customers that we are — first of all — concerned with their dietary needs, but more importantly able to tackle them in a fresh and delicious approach!

I think menu items like Falafel, with tsatziki  (cucumber and yogurt) and hummus, along with a nice marinated grilled chicken kabob and perhaps a side of healthy Tabouleh (bulgar wheat salad made with chopped parsley and tomatoes), make for a beautiful, healthy, fresh and amazingly tasty meal.  There are a whole lot of varieties and preparation styles of these great Mediterranean specialties simply because the Mediterranean covers so many different cultures.

You can find hundreds of recipes online. I just added a Mediterranean platter in my restaurant with all of these healthy choices on it and it seems to be a keeper. What I love about it is that the components of the platter can be used individually as well. Marinated chicken breast makes for an amazing pizza topping while creating a healthy Greek Style Pizza. If you already have a standard Greek pizza that you’ve been selling and want to create something new with this marinated chicken breast, then create a whole new Mediterranean Pizza or flat bread.

I’d consider using your Greek pizza as a great starting point and then add the grilled chicken breast while adding some cold components to it after it comes out of the oven. Try some spring mix or fresh spinach and fresh diced tomatoes and cucumbers tossed with a few drops of great olive oil, salt and pepper, then perhaps a drizzle of tsatziki sauce for beautiful finish!

This marinated chicken breast will also make for a gorgeous wrap or pita pocket with some of the same Mediterranean ingredients, like hummus, tsatziki, Kalamata olives, lettuce, onion and cucumbers.

I mentioned Falafel and although the very healthy aspect of it is diminished when you deep-fry it, it truly is packed with perfect ingredients. Falafel is packed with protein from the chic peas and is a great alternative on a salad or in a sandwich instead of meat! Here’s the recipe that I created that came out fantastic:

1 16-ounce bag of dry garbanzo beans (chic peas), soaked overnight
1 medium white onion
8 cloves of garlic
1 bunch of fresh parsley (washed and stemmed)
1 bunch of fresh cilantro (washed and stemmed)
1/3 cup cumin
2 tablespoon salt
¼ cup plain Greek yogurt
2 eggs (optional)

In a large food processor, combine all ingredients and grind it to a paste. Refrigerate for a couple of hours, then scoop into desired shape and deep fry for 1 ½ to 2 minutes at 350 F. Or bake on a cookie sheet coated with olive oil.

For chicken skewers, my recipe includes:

3 pounds of boneless chicken breast trimmed and cubed into one-inch pieces
1 cup of Italian dressing
3 tablespoons Cajun spice
1 tablespoon granulated garlic

Let your chicken marinate at least an hour and up to a couple of days. Remember the longer it marinates before you grill it, the more intense the flavor will be.

You can take chicken, turkey and even lean lamb in hundreds of different directions with the way that you marinate them and then accompany that theme and flavor profile with the appropriate veggies and toppings for that particular pizza. In the December issue of Pizza Today, you saw so many different pizza ideas.  I was privileged to prepare many of them in the test kitchen, and these videos are ready for your viewing in the video area of Pizza Today’s Web site. Some amazing pizzas that fit exactly what I’m talking about, for example, is the Kung Pao, Chipotle and Saltimbocca pizza, all using chicken in different ways to fit their theme, all while offering healthy versions with immense flavors!

I even taught you how to make your own chicken Cordon Bleu pepperoni by taking four ounces of raw boneless and skinless chicken breast and putting a slice of ham and Swiss cheese on top, then rolling them up and baking them. After they are chilled, you can slice the roll-ups very thin like pepperoni, which gives you a very unique pizza topping.

Years ago as an executive chef at a hotel, I used to make house made sausage with pork trimming and sometimes with chicken as well. There are so many amazing variations of healthy sausage recipes you can make if you have a grinding attachment. Spicy chicken Andouille would be amazing on a pizza, along with a great cranberry, apple and pork sausage, especially in the fall.

If you have customers who don’t eat pork, think about offering them a turkey bacon option. If you are in a market where your customer base is adventuresome you may want to consider some healthy toppings that are “out of the realm of normal”!

Gator meat, bison, wild boar, kangaroo, elk and ostrich are some meats that are starting to become a little bit more readily available — still expensive to carry — but could be worth checking it out!

Katsoubushi is a type of dried, smoked tuna that is a popular topping for many pizza makers throughout China.

Smoked reindeer is popular in Finland.

There are lots of options for you to sink your teeth into. So plug into your customers and see what they’re game for. Perhaps a little venison!

Jeffrey Freehof  owns The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia. He is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today and a speaker at International Pizza Expo.