Here’s an ingredients category with loads of potential. From almonds to walnuts, chia seeds to wheat berries—nuts, seeds, and grains add texture, flavor, nutrition, and inspiration to menu items.
Many are protein powerhouses, which make them particularly useful for vegan and vegetarian menus, but their usefulness is by no means limited to meatless specialties.
Nuts to You!
Nuts are for crunch; in fact, few foods add so much texture. They’re also healthy and almost addictively tasty. And a little of this premium ingredient goes a long way.
Use chopped or slivered nuts to crust proteins like chicken and fish
Add nuts to salads and vegetables for a crispy boost
Add body to sauces like romesco (a rustic Spanish sauce made with tomatoes, almonds, olive oil, and vinegar) and this distinctive Lemon Arugula Pesto
Roast, spice, and menu nuts as an à la carte snack, or add to an upscale bar mix
Stir into pilafs, pasta, and other “soft” dishes
Sprinkle over pizzas and flatbreads, as in this Thai Red Curry and Lamb Flatbread
Glaze nuts and use in a sweet topping for both savory and dessert items
Add chopped nuts to frostings and fillings
Experiment with different kinds of nuts in different recipes, from mellow walnuts to luxe macadamias
The Seeds of an Interesting Menu
Poppy seeds and sesame seeds have always been around, in bagel toppings, hummus (which usually contains tahini, a Middle Eastern sesame paste), and more. But lately these and other seeds have become more prominent as a source of nutrition as well as flavor and texture—some are even touted as superfoods, including hemp, chia, and flax seeds.
Some ideas for incorporating them:
Add pepitas (pumpkin seeds), sunflower, or pomegranate seeds to salad for color and texture
Offer smoothies with additions like chia, hemp, flax, or pumpkin seeds
Take a page from the American south, where they are called benne, and use sesame seeds in vegetables, wafers, and crackers
Add chia seeds to yogurt and fruit mixes
Make a chia seed pudding or mix into pancake batter
Mix hemp seeds into granola
Use poppy seeds in a sauce for pasta
Bake seeds into or onto breads and rolls
Blend hemp seeds into nondairy dressings
Add seeds of almost any kind to bar cookies and other sweet baked goods
Substitute or augment flax seeds in any recipe calling for sesame seeds
Grains are getting a lot of love these days, from professional kitchens and customers alike. In fact, once-pedestrian grains have become superstars in menu categories as far-ranging as breads, breakfast specialties, and side dishes. Learn how to cook them with this Ancient Grains Cooking Table (PDF).
Use whole grains as a base for on-trend customizable grain bowls
Give customers a whole grain option for pastas
Offer multigrain breads and rolls; they’re delicious and healthy
Menu a grain-based side dish such as quinoa or farro
Add grains to hearty soups
Use grains in a salad, instead of the more predictable pasta salad
Experiment with oatmeal and other grain-based porridges on a breakfast menu
Use cooked grains instead of breadcrumbs in items like meat loaf
Substitute brown rice or brown jasmine rice for regular white rice