August 1, 2017 |

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By Jeffrey Freehof

summer chicken salad

Grilled Chicken Salad

Summer is the perfect time for the entrée salad

While we’re smack dab in the middle of summer, folks are busier than ever with that on-the-go lifestyle that summer somehow always brings. A lot of diners still want to eat a nice, delicious dinner but sometimes limit themselves to eating a salad instead. I understand that as much as the next person. Sometimes I just don’t want to cook or even eat a hot meal in the heat of the summer. That’s when a hearty dinner salad becomes the perfect solution. Let’s take a look at ways to build some great salads that won’t leave your customers hungry in an hour.

More than likely you’ve got most or all of the ingredients you need to build some entrée salads that really pack a punch with flavor and creativity. Oh sure, you may already offer a chef salad or chicken Caesar salad, and that’s an awesome start. We can, however, do a whole lot better than that. Even though I would categorize an entrée salad as having plenty of protein on it, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s got to be loaded with meat. It can be, and trust me many of your customers would love a salad with plenty of meat and cheese on it.

Remember that protein can be found in more things than you might think. That would satisfy your diehard vegetarians as well as your every day diners.

I love a salad with plenty of veggies but topped with great things, like egg, garbanzo beans, cheese, tofu, soybeans, black beans, quinoa, green peas, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, lentils and lima beans, all of which are packed with protein. Now, you can take these ingredients and others like them and put your culinary genius to work combining them in a way that will overwhelm your customers in a positive and delicious way. “What would I do with lima beans?” you ask. There are lots of things. Succotash is an example than can be made with a combination of corn, lima beans, red and green bell pepper and onions if you like. Instead of serving it hot, mix it with a light vinaigrette and offer other proteins to complement it for a nice Southern salad. Southwest corn and black bean salad with some fresh lime juice and cilantro is colorful and a great option to top your salad with any other protein like grilled chicken or shrimp.

There’s a chicken salad that I had years ago that is really fantastic that you should give a try. It’s called Grilled Chicken Salad and makes for a great entrée.

First, marinate some chicken breast in Italian dressing and then grill it on a char-grill. Chill it and then dice it in medium size chunks. Mix it with sliced green onion (scallions), chopped bacon and a little mayo. The char on the chicken combined with the flavors and texture of the bacon and green onion make this dish something your customers will be craving once they give it a try.

Although folks love a hearty salad to fill them up, they’re semi-thinking they’re eating healthy but subconsciously know with all the ranch or bleu cheese dressing they pour over their salad that they just defeated the purpose of “healthy choice.”

Metro Diner was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives with their Pittsburgh Steak salad, which is a very large standard garden salad with egg and croutons, then topped with French fries, sliced grilled steak and crumbled bleu cheese. It’s hearty and a bit over-the-top delicious. Those are the kind of things that create a buzz in the community.

mediterranean salad platter

Mediterranean Salad Platter

As you’re thinking about adding some great entrée salad choices, think about your base first. Look at what you already have in house and then consider mixing some fresh greens to create a great salad base. Iceburg, Romaine and spinach make for a great combo. Add in some fresh spring mix and you’re raring to go. Topping that mix with some of that grilled chicken salad and garnished with tomatoes, cucumbers, shredded carrots and hard-boiled egg will surely be visually stimulating first and then tastes amazing. Remember, people eat with their eyes first. It’s got to look good.

It’s funny when you think about what’s trending. Usually it’s something new. Mediterranean certainly isn’t something new, but because of its fresh ingredients, amazing textures, flavor profiles and eye appeal, it is definitely something to consider incorporating into your menu. It really satisfies the healthy and delicious preference many have in the summer and throughout the year.

I put a Mediterranean Salad Platter on my menu a while back and it was a huge success. I was making everything from scratch, but you can buy all the components pre-made and then assemble them in the manner you choose.

I had a nice salad blend base similar to the one I described, and then topped it off with a variety of things including: hummus, sliced cucumber and tomato and topped with Kalamata olives, crumbled feta, two stuffed grape leaves and freshly made tabbouleh, which is made with fresh chopped parsley, bulger wheat, diced tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice. I also added grilled chicken skewers, grilled flat bread, a couple of fried falafel (a chick pea fritter) and some tzatziki (yogurt with cucumber and dill weed). This was a beautiful, fresh, healthy and delicious salad platter that became a best seller. I love this platter because of great customer satisfaction, and it really brings in a high profit margin because you can bring in a strong price for this while cost is fairly low.

Creating some delicious salads will be a great way to retain summertime customers who may drift away. It’s equally as important to pair your salads with some great dressings. It was many years ago that I created a homemade salad dressing demo in the Pizza Today test kitchen and you can find it if you go to YouTube and search Pizza Today _ Chef Jeff Salad. Check it out and go get fresh in your kitchen! 

Jeffrey Freehof is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today and International Pizza Expo.