Food for Thought

Not Just Lettuce Anymore

Salad choices include the wild and wonderful.

Story & Photos By Kathy Borsuk

As Nature turns up the heat (yes, it sometimes feels chilly here to residents during the wintertime), it’s becoming the season for salads. These healthy, snappy, tasty creations have soared beyond the wilted iceberg lettuce-tomato-carrot concoctions many of us grew up eating. Among Providenciales’ extensive variety of dining choices, I found a similarly wide-ranging selection of salads, ranging from elegant to international; unusual to traditional.

somerset-beet-saladO’Soleil, the upscale restaurant at The Somerset at Grace Bay, sets the bar high when it comes to preparation, presentation and service of “island-infused world cuisine.” The kitchen is “womaned” by transplanted Canadian Executive Chef Lauren Callighen, whose menu is a sensual delight of flavors, colors and textures. Dinner is served nightly in the savvy, sophisticated, white-on-white, dining room and Lauren says that her most popular salad is Layered Beetroot and Goat Cheese. “It’s healthy, light and refreshing . . . just what we strive for in all of our dishes, and includes beetroot, one of nature’s ‘superfoods.'” Beetroot is high in B vitamins, iron and zinc, and is also a good source of vitamins A and C, calcium, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium. (In Asian culture, it is considered an aphrodisiac!) In Lauren’s recipe it is cut in circles and layered with goat cheese, which, compared to cheese made from cow’s milk, is lower in calories, fat and has no lactose. The salad is garnished with aromatic arugula and served with a hazelnut vinaigrette for a visually delightful presentation.

somerset-salad-3Lauren strives for uniqueness in other salad selections, as well. O’Soleil’s Caesar Salad includes plantain croutons – a healthful Caribbean twist – and is tossed with an anchovy dressing. Another signature side salad features a baby lettuce blend created especially for the restaurant by Island Fresh produce, the local hydroponic supplier. This is topped with strawberries, walnuts and asparagus, and tossed with a ginger/poppyseed vinaigrette. This, Lauren explains, is an example of her predilection for “sneaking in nutritious ingredients whenever I can.”  Walnuts are a great source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats and ginger possesses numerous therapeutic properties including antioxidant effects.

Lemon Café is one of the island’s newest restaurants. Centrally located in the Village of Grace Bay (accessed via the roundabout just south of The Sands on Grace Bay resort), Lemon is “a modern take on Moroccan cuisine with Mediterranean influences.” In fact, stepping into the themed dining room is like entering a luxurious Bedouin tent. Warm, welcoming earth tones and a draped cloth ceiling, exotic music and an unhurried atmosphere invite you to relax and savor your dining experience (bring your own harem!)

Lemon is the dream – two years in the making – of Mark Dillon and partner Natalie Zaidan. Mari is a transplanted Canadian who visited the Islands and identified the need for a restaurant that went beyond the pale, to entice the palettes of residents and visitors alike. Mark’s wife is Moroccan, and besides falling in love with her, he says, “I also fell in love with the food, culture, music and style,” a fact that is clear in the eatery’s careful attention to detail.

Mark let his friend and experienced Executive Chef Jesse MacDonald wield his creativity when it came to creating the menu. “We started with traditional dishes as a template, but spent a lot of time adapting and refining them to make them our own. Above all, we focused on freshness and flavor.”

lemon-chicken-saladLemon’s most popular salad is a twist on the basics. Mark explains, “We combine cucumber, tomato, olives and pickled radishes with a side of cucumber mint yoghurt and humus. It’s tasty, healthy and full of fresh and unexpected nuances. For folks who might want a heartier salad, they can add grilled lemon chicken for increased flavor and protein. Another salad spotlights poached grouper on a bed of fennel and endive, topped with dill and capers, including marinated olives and orange hearts. This savory-sweet combination has a lot of flavors going on, but they all come together really well.”

Another favorite for lunch or dinner is Lemon’s two-bean salad with red onion, parsley, red and yellow peppers and feta cheese, tossed with a lime-artichoke dressing. Besides being another appetite-arousing blend of flavors, this salad makes it easy to eat healthy. Beans provide protein and soluble fiber, while brightly colored bell peppers are rich sources of vitamins C and A, two very powerful antioxidants. Feta cheese, made from goat’s milk, provides an excellent source of calcium, zinc, riboflavin, and vitamin B12, which help strengthen bones, teeth and the immune system.

Simply mentioning the salads doesn’t do the intriguing menu justice, although the salads do represent Lemon’s tantalizing mélange of exotic flavors. A large selection of tapas, tagines and even B’stilla are on offer, with Mark explaining, “We like to play around and have fun with the menu, so every day there’s likely to be something new and different.”

There’s no doubt that Graceway IGA’s popular deli/take-out counter satisfies the salad cravings for many a harried worker during their lunchtime break. Chef and traditional green salads with packaged dressing are on offer, along with a much larger selection of salad ingredients for cooking at home, including organic fruits and vegetables in the store’s huge produce department.

That will soon change and expand when Graceway Gourmet opens this April. Located in the heart of Grace Bay, at the Seven Stars roundabout, the 15,000 sq. ft. store will “cater to the finer palette with a select variety of gourmet food and specialty organic products.” Graceway Gourmet’s delicatessen/take-out department is led by Executive Chef Josh Carlton, who spent the last four years cooking at the upscale Turks & Caicos Sporting Club on Ambergris Cay. He says Graceway Gourmet will focus on fresh, creative, homemade salad specialties for people to eat on-site or take away. “We’ll have a variety of chopped, pasta and potato salads in single and family sizes. And I’m really excited about using 100% compostable biodegradable packaging for most of our food items.”

He revealed one of his signature combinations:  Mango Slaw, a healthy and colorful blend of red and green cabbage and bell peppers, green onion and green mango, tossed with a vinegar-based dressing to keep calories and saturated fat low. Surprisingly for their decadent flavor and perfume-like aroma, mangos are high in iron, a rich source of vitamin A, E and selenium, which help to protect against heart disease and contain phenols, a compound have powerful antioxidant and anticancer abilities.

Chef Josh also plans a number of seasonal salads, based on readily available ingredients through his South Florida produce supplier, which offers an extensive range of healthy and distinctive products. Heartier, protein-rich salads will include seared and slow-roasted fish and seafood.

You can’t mention salads in the Turks & Caicos without highlighting the local legend: conch salad. At roadside “conch shacks” in Blue Hills, you’ll find this raw conch specialty as fresh as it gets. The conch is literally harvested from the ocean, “knocked,” removed from the shell and diced, then tossed with fresh lime juice and chopped onion, sweet pepper and tomato, seasoned with a bit of salt and hot pepper. It’s a tangy, sweet, chewy, fresh from the sea combination.

You’ll find many variations on this national dish, often called by its more sophisticated name, conch “ceviche.” Yet whether served in martini glasses or plastic bowls, conch is a natural Caribbean “superfood”, very high in protein and low in calories with no saturated fat.

Also on the menu (when in season from August 1 through March 31) of many local restaurants, including Smokey’s on the Bay and Caicos Café is lobster salad. This rich treat is made from sweet, tender local lobster tail that has been cooked, cooled and “pulled” (separated into fibers), then tossed with finely chopped onion, sweet pepper, fresh lime juice and mayonnaise. A splash of hot sauce adds the perfect touch. It’s tasty on its own, on a bed of greens or served as a sandwich between slices of still warm, slightly sweet, dense island bread.

Salads make sense as part of a healthy diet, especially in a climate where you spend lots of time in skimpy bathing suits, shorts and tank tops. Luckily, salads don’t have to be boring anymore.

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