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Salads, Fast Casual Style

Salads, Fast Casual Style

You won't find a cookbook that's more timely than Andrew Swallow's Mixt Salads: A Chef's Bold Creations (Ten Speed Press, $28). It shows operators how they can leverage three of the most important trends that prevail in foodservice today: Seasonal ingredients sourced from local farms; healthful eating options that combine big flavors with modest caloric content; and a fast-casual format that relies on a Chipotle-style system to serve the finished product at its absolute peak of quality.

There are 60 salad recipes in this 160-page book, and each has been developed and refined to meet a high standard. Swallow is chief culinary officer at Mixt Greens, a restaurant concept company where his partners are the husband-and-wife team of David and Leslie Silverglide, Leslie being Swallow's sister. The trio opened their first Mixt Greens in San Francisco in 2005. After adding two more units there, they brought the concept to Washington, DC, where the first of four planned stores opened its doors in January.

Which is to say that although the Mixt chain is tiny, its tossed-to-order operational formula has already proven successful in two of the most sophisticated restaurant markets in the country.

Here's how Swallow describes the Mixt dining experience: “They're not eating prewashed greens thrown into a bowl and loaded up with some overly sugared dressing. These are my kind of salads: organic, hyper-fresh, deeply layered with flavors and textures and totally, completely addictive.”

Swallow, a Culinary Institute of America grad, comes from a fine-dining background. He's cooked at Gramercy Tavern in New York City and Ajax Tavern in Aspen, and been a manager at Gary Danko in San Francisco. The sensibilities he developed during that part of his career can be seen in many of the creations detailed in the book.

The recipes are organized by season, the better to correspond to ingredients likely to be available at or near their peak. The salad combinations are tasty and contemporary, the directions thorough — most recipes include a dressing made à la minute — and the final presentations are gorgeous. There's not a lot of cooking, other than for those salads that feature a protein item served on greens. But this is world-class combining.

All of which makes this book a rich resource for operators. “My goal is to show you just how incredible the overlooked salad can be,” Swallow says in his introduction. He does, and it's worth your while to see how he does it, because salads can't be overlooked at Mixt Greens; they're the entire basis of the business. If you want to add some affordable-yet-interesting items to your menu — remember, the recipes here come from a fast casual operation where almost everything costs less than $10 — check this book out, pronto.