PORTLAND, Maine — Salads have no season. But during a cold snap, delving into a crisp bowl of cold greens feels spartan, with a capital “S” — an austerity far from comforting.
To rewire the light lunch into cold weather fare that packs the same gusto as a hearty bowl of soup, Portland chefs are heating things up this winter. Two healthy, quick-serve restaurants have created hot salads for urbanites eager to keep their New Year’s resolutions while staying svelte and sated.
From quinoa bowls loaded with warm, protein-packed grains to a meatball Caesar, eateries such as b.good on Exchange Street and Daily Greens in Monument Square are turning up the health and the heat.
John Conzelman, who owns Daily Greens at the Public Market House, was tired of seeing long lines at nearby Kamasouptra while his 19 gourmet salads started to wilt. So the former Wall Street trader took the soup concept — warm, portable, hearty — and translated it to the salad bowl.
“Everyone turns to salads in the summer. There is no reason we have to go back to mutton in the winter,” Conzelman said. “We need high-energy foods to fight off colds.”
Among his six hot salad offerings this winter are the French lentil with bacon and herbs, a black rice-based salad topped with chicken and almonds called The Emperor and the steamy meatball Caesar.
These inventive salads are served warm — not chilled. Earthy wild rice takes the edge off raw carrots, scallions and cilantro. Served on a bed of mixed greens, The Emperor is a robust lunch. Lentils served warm on a bed of spinach with shallots, garlic, bacon and spices is the salad for people who don’t like salad. And all are packed with protein and will keep those who count carbs, not calories, satisfied this season.
“We are trying to adapt to the soup market by offering hearty, warmer foods for winter,” said Conzelman, who cooked in kitchens in Vail, Colorado, and is an avid salad lover.
At b.good, owner Bill Zolper is partial to the kale and quinoa bowls that make eating healthy less penalty, more reward.
The curry and grilled avocado is the latest hit. A bed of warm red and white quinoa is served with a sea of colorful veggies, such as roasted red peppers, sauteed cauliflower and shiitake mushrooms. Buttressed with kale marinated in canola oil and fresh-squeezed lemon, the meal is topped with a grilled avocado. A cooling dollop of yogurt sauce with fresh mint provides “a nice contrast” to the curry, Zolper said.
This is a spa lunch that satisfies competitive appetites. Zolper, a 20-something Bangor native with an athletic build, counts this his top winter repast. “There is a sustainable amount of food. It will fill you up.”
Why is this newcomer already the top seller?
“People are interested in real food and being ahead of the curve. We are giving them things they don’t know they want yet,” Zolper said, adding that “kale has blown up.”
If it’s possible to get every food trend into one bite, this dish delivers: bowl, quinoa, kale, avocado — ka-pow.
Antonia Anderson of The Body Architect in Portland says complex carbohydrates such as kale are key to staying mentally and physically fit. But mixing the right foods is just as crucial.
“Combining kale and quinoa with protein and fat is essential. Every meal should have a little healthy fat,” the holistic life coach said. “Kale and quinoa bowls are a wonderful mix.”
She recommends b.good’s bountiful bowls to her members and is offering them a discount this winter to help sustain their workouts. Warm foods that are not “destroyed by over cooking” are important to power through a Maine winter, she said. “You are already fighting the cold. The body does best ingesting everything at its own temperature.”
When it comes to hot salads, few winter offerings can top the meatball Caesar for sheer innovativeness.
Conzelman uses his father’s meatball recipe, starting with ground beef from a local butcher. Think two perfectly executed meatballs slathered in zesty tomato sauce presented on fresh romaine. A sprinkle of bacon bits, Parmesan cheese and croutons comes next. This, like many salads at Daily Greens costs $10, but it will make you feel better than a submarine sandwich.
“I made it up on a whim,” said Conzelman, who is doing his part in his lime green and black booth to make salads exciting.
“People think the only way to lose weight is by not eating,” said Conzelman, who cooks in small batches and uses local vegetables when he can, “but the body needs fuel.”