Salads have undergone a makeover. Long gone are the days of iceberg lettuce and tomato wedges, the carnation flowers of the food world and technically a portion of the edible kingdom but pretty much the last item on a menu that you want to order. Enter the trend of the “sexy” salad or bowls of greens with on-trend ingredients and bold flavors.
Instagram influencer and New York chef Adam Kenworthy has helped to serve up this green movement with his innovative and colorful creations. Earlier this year, he posted a sexy salad recipe on social media that included butterhead lettuce, spinach, grilled broccoli, grilled portobello mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, green lentils, grilled asparagus, carrots, cabbage and avocado. It was then layered with toasted mustard vinaigrette. And, we must report, the crowd went wild.
But what about here in Baltimore. How sexy are our salads? Diners in search of something fresh and earthy to sate their appetites often find one thing: sodium-free, dressing-less greens. As it turns out, undressed salads aren’t all that exciting. That’s in part why restaurants are striving to spice them up with some exciting and flavorful toppings.
Elena Johnson, owner of L’Eau de Vie Organic Brasserie in Baltimore, says that while she is not breaking out #SexySalad or other hashtags any time soon, she is offering some colorful items for summer.
“We tend to focus on whole foods quite a bit, so in terms of healthful eating, in my opinion, that’s the healthiest way to eat,” she says. “When it comes to this time of year, people are coming out of winter and ‘comfort eating.’ I still want our food to be satisfying, but I do want it to be a little fresher and have you feeling a bit lighter.”
One of the main ingredients in her salads is, you probably guessed it, vegetables. But she cautions against underestimating these stalwarts. Her entrée salads include the grilled tofu-steak salad, for example, with the aforementioned marinated tofu, lacinato kale, spinach, red cabbage, pickled carrots and broccoli, caramelized onions and pumpkin seeds, topped with a creamy herb dressing.
There is also the niçoise salad, with romaine, chickpea salad, roasted potatoes, green beans, olives and a vinaigrette.
OK, so she may have a point.
“We try to put the things that make our bodies healthy into the foods that we are making, without taking away from the taste and the textured concept,” she says. “Things like pumpkin seeds are healthy for you. But I add them to the salad because they are crunchy and give a little extra pop of flavor on top of the other elements in there.”
It’s hard to move beyond the idea of salad as “just a bunch of leaves and raw veggies,” admits registered dietitian nutritionist Diana Sugiuchi, owner of Nourish Family Nutrition in Towson. But diners need to include some type of protein with those leaves to feel full.
“Whether it’s edamame, tofu, cottage cheese, seafood or meat,” she says, “good protein is going to elevate that salad and keep you going.”
There is also the issue of dressing. Many of the tastiest are loaded with calories, which leaves few guilt-free options. Make herbs your new best friend, Sugiuchi says.
“If you have dried herbs in your pantry, throw some of that on there,” she says. “If you have fresh herbs, even better, just cut some of them up and toss them in there along with some lemon or lime juice.”
She also offers her own secret weapon: artichoke hearts.
“I always get frozen artichoke hearts and put them in my salads, and that makes it really yummy and healthy for you,” she says. “I also like to mix arugula in with spring mix, because it has a really sharp taste to it. I will also add jalapenos for a little spice. Making a salad doesn’t have to be complicated.
It’s about finding what you like and thinking outside of these traditional salad ingredients that makes things more interesting.”
Here’s where talk of salads turns to other goodness — juices. Salads have a lot of competition from drinkable nutrition these days. At the brasserie, favorites include the Mineral Lift, a concoction of pineapple, blueberries, spinach, cashews, dates, Brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, blackstrap molasses and kelp powder. Other juices include the Immune Elixir, with carrot, oranges and papaya, or the Detox Quaff, filled with cucumber, apple, celery and turmeric.
“These smoothies are great for detoxification, boosting immunity, and they contain a lot of antioxidants and Vitamin C,” Johnson says. No wonder salads have to step it up. Stall 11, a restaurant in Remington’s R. House, serves a plant-based menu of smoothies and sustainably sourced fare. Like Johnson, its owner wants customers to eat their greens, but without labels.
“We are 100-percent plant-based with our concept. But, I think in general, our whole approach is not to be in your face or political about it,” says J. J. Reidy, founder, and CEO of Stall 11 as well as Urban Pastoral, a creative urban development firm. “We wanted to open up the restaurant to create more jobs in the city, elevate the produce and create a vertically integrated business.”
Part of the process is making plant-based foods more approachable by doing classic twists on comfort food like burgers, mac and cheese and, of course, salads, he explains.
“I don’t feel the need to label it as farm to table. It’s just the idea that it’s really good quality food,” Reidy says. Stall 11 serves “plant-based comfort food” including salads, bowls, sandwiches and other fun takes on foods that typically aren’t vegetarian-based. The “Philly fungi,” for example, is a take on a cheese-steak created with wild mushrooms and caramelized onions on a baguette with cashew spread instead of cheese, and it’s a crowd favorite, Reidy says.
Other dishes on the menu include the lemon garlic-kale Caesar salad with local kale and roasted tempeh, topped with nut seed parmesan and crispy chickpeas and served with a lemon garlic Caesar dressing. “We have a couple of new salads like the rainbow chop salad, a spring mix base with raw peppers, avocado, shredded carrots, cucumbers, red onion, crispy chickpeas and a green goddess dressing, and Buda Bowls, which consists of kale, coconut rice, marinated mushrooms, kimchi, avocado and a ginger-miso dressing,” he says. “We’re excited for people to come and try them out.”
So, what is he using for a hashtag these days? #dropthebeet #houseofcauliflower #goodhonestfood
Pretty clever, right?
Photos by David Stuck