It’s still winter outside, but spring vegetables will soon appear on restaurant tables. This year, some popular spring vegetables will show up in the center of the plate instead of just as salads or sides.
Among the vegetables most likely to take the spotlight are leafy greens such as arugula, spinach and kale, which have all grown on menus over the past five years, according to the Chicago-based research firm Technomic Inc.’s "Category Close-Up: Vegetables" report.
The report found that spinach was mentioned on menus more than 20 percent more in 2013 than it was in 2009, and that arugula was mentioned nearly 55 percent more often than in 2009. Kale, possibly the trendiest vegetable over the past two years, was mentioned 380 times more often in 2013 than four years earlier, according to Technomic’s MenuMonitor.
Given the popularity of Southern fare, mustard greens may also start to appear more frequently, according to the Chicago-based research firm’s vice president Darren Tristano.
At Supper, a farm-to-table restaurant in Philadelphia, diners have grown more interested in vegetable dishes, leading–owner Mitch Prensky to increase the number of them on his already veggie-heavy menu. Beginning in April, Prensky says he’ll add more main dishes where he “treats vegetables in a meaty sense,” such as Swiss chard pie, charred romaine lettuces and barley or amaranth with beets, crème fraîche and mustard greens.
“Vegetable cookery is fun; there’s so many more options,” said Prensky. “[Spring greens] open up a whole bunch of doors for us creatively.”
At Found Kitchen and Social House in Evanston, Ill., chef Nicole Pederson is committed to putting vegetables center stage. On the current menu, black kale shines in a saag with smoked tofu, sweet potato, turmeric and coconut milk. In another dish, mustard greens and spaghetti squash complement braised pork.
Even Brennan’s of Houston, best known for its Creole seafood- and meat-focused fare, is making vegetables a more integral part of its menu, starting with an early spring introduction of a shifting vegetarian menu.
“We’re changing it up, putting more focus on vegetables,” said chef Danny Trace.
For March, the all-veggie section includes several entrees with popular leafy greens, such as baby arugula, mustard greens and collards. Trace says he looks forward to incorporating more spring vegetables into the menu, including beet greens, cucumbers and dinosaur kale.
In late February, kale went from salads and sides to featured main dishes at b.good, the Boston-based fast-casual chain. New to the menu and already best sellers are the white bean and rosemary bowl with organic quinoa, kale, sautéed veggies, wild mushrooms, beets, cannellini beans, Parmesan cheese and a red pepper vinaigrette, and the toasted almond and ginger bowl with organic quinoa, kale, sautéed veggies, tamari almonds, bean sprouts, mint and a toasted almond-ginger sauce. The chain, which has been growing its own produce at two of its restaurants for several years, is now exclusively growing kale to meet the demand. Co-founder Jon Olinto hopes to harvest about 5,000 pounds of kale this spring, summer and fall.
Other chefs are playing with lesser-known spring vegetables that may one day soon proliferate on menus, such as dandelion greens. For example, at newly opened Flight in Washington, D.C., chef Bradley Curtis is offering a twist on a classic Lebanese fattoush with dandelion greens, romaine, cucumbers, watermelon radish and heirloom cherry tomatoes tossed with sumac and pomegranate dressing.