Natural Foods Merchandiser

Global Table Spices Up Deli Menu Mix

The Food Doctor

Though flavor must always be the calling card of any successful prepared foods department, the truth is many customers come to natural foods markets for a healthy alternative to their fat-, starch- or red meat-laden fare.

In the last installment of the Food Doctor, we discussed making familiar favorites with a nutritionally sensitive twist. But many of the world's cuisines are inherently more healthy than the typical Western diet, relying more heavily on vegetables, legumes and whole grains as dietary staples. The world table is a great place to go looking for new, nutritious recipes for your menu mix.

The Mediterranean diet, noted for its positive effect on long-term health, and the cuisines of Asia are two of my favorites. Customers are probably familiar with the basics of both, but the two styles are umbrella terms that offer an astounding array of options for chefs on the lookout for something different. By experimenting with these styles and their ingredients, prepared-foods departments can pique the taste buds of curious customers, provide healthy and great-tasting foods, and distinguish the deli as a destination for innovative offerings.

Sun, Surf And So Much More
Mediterranean foods incorporate the cultures and cuisines of Italy, Greece, Spain, Turkey, Egypt and North Africa, though Greek- and Italian-influenced foods are most often found in menu mixes. There are elements of health present in many areas of this diet. Mediterranean cuisine relies on olive oil as its primary fat, and although some dairy is used, its role is minimal. Seasonal and local ingredients are a hallmark of this style. Menus typically include recipes dominated by grains, legumes and vegetables. Seafood is often featured, red meat and game less so.

The flavors of Mediterranean cuisine are pure, unadulterated and unmasked. For example, fish or vegetables are often grilled with only a brushing of high-quality olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and fresh herbs. Simplicity is the identifying characteristic. Less is more here.

Keeping these principles in mind, consider how Mediterranean cuisine can influence other areas of your menu. The natural products industry produces a wide array of high quality and delicious oils, and those from the olive are only the beginning. Try preparing dishes with cold-pressed sunflower, safflower or canola oils. And when finishing a dish, try seasoning to taste with other oils such as hazelnut, walnut or sesame oils instead of butter. You can also take your menu to the next level—think Med Fest—by offering more simple herb- and oil-flavored grilled items, such as grilled asparagus or artichokes drizzled with mustard vinaigrette.

Asian Basics And Beyond
Keep the five-flavor principle in mind when developing new Asian recipes for the deli. That taste buds only differentiate five flavors—sweet, sour, salty, bitter and spicy—is the golden rule of Asian food. Quick cooking, crisp textures, bright colors and vibrant flavors are other Asian cooking principles. Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust, the Boston-based organization notorious for promoting alternative diet pyramids, touts the Asian diet as one of the healthiest in the world. Dairy rarely makes an appearance in the cuisine, and although red meat is used for many dishes, seafood, poultry and a great number of soyfoods are more common proteins.

One way to expand your Asian repertoire is by experimenting with regional cooking styles. Many Vietnamese, Thai and Indonesian dishes are simple to prepare and have a beautiful appearance in hot- and cold-food displays. Or try bringing in a case of some more exotic, but not necessarily more expensive, Asian produce, such as baby bok choy or Chinese broccoli to distinguish and differentiate your menu. A simple stir-fry with tamari, sesame oil, ginger and garlic is brilliantly honest when it comes to flavor.

Chef Steve Petusevsky was the national director of creative food development for Whole Foods Market Inc. and is author of the Whole Foods Market Cookbook: A Guide to Natural Foods with 350 Recipes (Random House, August 2002).

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 10/p. 58

Ligurian Chicken Breast

Makes 18-24 portions, depending on chicken breast size

For the stuffing:
5 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and boiled
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 head garlic, peeled and minced
4 bunches kale, chopped
2 bunches scallions, chopped
4 bunches basil leaves, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

10 pounds boneless whole chicken breasts, cut in half and pounded lightly
8 medium tomatoes, cored and sliced about 1/4-inch thick
3 large red onions, sliced about 1/4-inch thick
4 lemons, thinly sliced
6 cups white wine
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 bunches fresh mint leaves, torn or chopped
2 bunches basil leaves, torn or chopped
1 cup capers, drained
1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped

To prepare the stuffing: Place the potatoes in a large bowl and mash lightly with a fork. Set aside. Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat and sauté the garlic and kale for 4-5 minutes, tossing often, or until the greens are wilted. Add the kale to the potatoes along with the scallions, basil, salt and pepper. Cool completely in the refrigerator.

Place about 1/2 cup of the potato-kale filling in the center of each pounded chicken breast. Fold the top of the breast over the filling to form a package, tucking in the breast wherever needed. Place the chicken on a baking pan. Top with a slice of tomato, a slice of onion and a slice of lemon. Secure with a toothpick if necessary.

Mix the white wine, olive oil and lemon juice together. Pour the wine mixture around the chicken, then sprinkle with the mint, basil leaves, capers and olives. Cover with aluminum foil and bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 35 minutes. Uncover, brush the vegetables and chicken breasts with some of the pan drippings, and cook an additional 10 minutes, uncovered, until golden.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 10/p. 58

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