Next-Wave Salads: Too Good to Leaf Alone


Chefs are moving beyond the classic caesar and house salads, giving greens an exciting culinary spin. Guests appreciate the flavour exploration of such a familiar format.

The salad category is generally slower to adopt flavour trends than other categories, like bar snacks, sides and entrées. But 2017 external research tours in Canada and the United States uncovered an emerging pattern of creative salad offerings that speaks to serious salad innovation. 

It’s definitely a sign of the times—intentional flavour and texture building is a hallmark of modern dishes. Modern salads are showcasing today’s overarching trend of mindful construction, where raw onions become pickled or jammed, tomatoes are charred or blistered, and traditional salad greens get a serious challenge from other produce that’s ready for centre stage. 

Innovative salad ideas are making waves on the menu in four signature ways.

1. Look to “new” greens

Iceberg and romaine are steady players, but other greens are finding their way onto more salads, adding textural play, nutrient density and menu differentiation. “Arugula and baby kale are not growing old,” says Nova Scotia-based Gordon Food Service® Corporate Chef Kent MacDonald. Kale is another superstar ingredient with continued opportunity. These greens remain highly popular, and chefs are using them in phenomenal ways. 

Frisée is another green that holds a lot of potential, introducing a pleasing bitter profile with texture that gives height and drama to a salad. Because of its bitterness, frisée often takes a supporting role, blending in with softer, sweeter greens like mâche and lolla rossa. 

Escarole also is finding a home in modern salads. This broad, leafy green with a slightly bitter profile works well when it’s grilled, as an unexpected element to a cold salad, or even served raw, mixed with sweeter counterpoints, like dried apricots or golden raisins. 

2. Think outside the lettuce

Chefs are borrowing from the veg-centric trend, where flavour-forward techniques are applied to produce in creative ways. Beets are being used in raw applications, shaved, spiralized or julienned for a delicate, but memorable presentation. The Beet Salad at Three Hands in Toronto features roasted beets on a bed of arugula, with radish, whipped goat cheese, fried shallots and a honey vinaigrette for an explosion of flavours and textures that’s decidedly veg-centric. 

Other raw vegetables also are being highlighted in salads—from watermelon radishes to Brussels sprouts and turnips. An important part of this approach is the inclusion of high-impact ingredients, like heady spices or umami-rich accents. 

3. Dress for success

This is an area where tremendous innovation is taking place. MacDonald notes that citrus dressings–blood orange and lemon in particular—are popular as chefs are looking at how to amp up flavour. He also points to dressings that incorporate regional favourites, such as maple and balsamic vinegar, blueberries or other fruits that are in season. 

Chefs are paying attention to the texture of dressing as a way to round out a salad’s theme in a creative, unexpected ways. Flock in Toronto accents its Frenchy Flock salad (mixed greens and arugula, vine beans, crispy onions, roasted cauliflower, French lentils, sweet peppers, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, hard-boiled egg and yellow zucchini) with a roasted tomato/olive/caper vinaigrette. Bagna càuda, that rich, flavourful blend of anchovy, olive oil, garlic and butter, holds big opportunity for dressing innovation.

4. Look to flavourful protein add-ins

Flavour building is the name of the game today—from bowl builds and bar bites to salad offerings. The rise of more flavourful proteins comes thanks in part to the veg-centric trend, which relies on elements like crispy pork and cured meats to add craveability. The same is happening with salads, where interesting protein choices like cold-smoked salmon or pulled turkey fit right in. “In Canada, especially on the coasts, shrimp and salmon are all popular ways to liven up salads,” MacDonald points out. “It’s all about texture—a crispy fried scallop goes very nicely with the tender mouthfeel of quinoa on a bed of greens.” Blackened foods, smoky barbecue flavours and lacquered bacon put salads in the spotlight.

It’s an exciting time for menu development. Diners seem open and eager to explore innovative flavour combinations. Salads offer a familiar format—perfect for a safe culinary adventure that can help build menu differentiation and repeat business. 

Creative Salad Sightings

Modern Bowl with tabbouleh, pineapple salsa, roasted cauliflower and broccoli, tomatoes, cucumber, fresh greens, jasmine rice, miso carrot ginger sauce (grilled chicken, grilled avocado or glazed salmon are extras) —Cactus Club, Toronto

Beet Tartare with mustard greens, almond, preserved lemon—Kali, Los Angeles

Corn Salad with crispy tortilla, red onions, pico de gallo corn, spiced pepitas, cotija queso, adobo and crema—El Local Loco, Toronto

Shaved Raw Vegetable Salad with apple, beets, carrots, candied pecans, blue cheese—Steakbar, Chicago

Chickpea Caesar with grilled romaine, Parmesan, herb croutons, lemon-chickpea dressing—The Little Beet Table, Chicago

Harvest Salad Field Greens with blue cheese, green apples, shallot confit, housemade prosciutto bacon, balsamic vinaigrette —Appellation, Chicago

Vegetarian Bowl with vegan poke, seaweed salad, hearts of palm, brown rice, edamame, avocado, pickled chiles, mango, lime pomegranate—Poke Guys, Toronto

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