Fun fact: did you know that the Caesar salad originated in Mexico? An Italian immigrant named Caesar Cardini moved to Tijuana in the 1920’s and opened a few restaurants. It is rumored that he invented the now-famous salad one evening when he ran out of his usual salad dressing ingredients and was forced to make up a salad dressing on the spot. The salad was a huge hit, and its popularity quickly spread to the United States. Nowadays, you can find Caesar salads on menus across the country, from high end restaurants to fast food chains.
So, there’s your history lesson for the day!
What I would like to do today is re-write a little bit of culinary history. I would like to reclaim the Caesar salad. Don’t get me wrong: I love a good Caesar. I love it when the lettuce is fresh and crisp, when the dressing is made from scratch (and with love!). I love the salty brine of the anchovies. The crunch of the croutons. The bite of the garlic.
But let’s be honest… when was the last time you had a good Caesar salad? Caesar salads have devolved into convenience store food; pre-packaged in plastic containers filled with with rubbery white chicken (complete with fake char marks!), soggy croutons, and wilted lettuce. Most modern-day Caesar’s resemble nothing of Cardini’s 1920’s invention.
As for my version of the Caesar, it is also a far cry from Cardini’s original recipe. My version is vegan, which means it contains no eggs or anchovies. While I love a classic Caesar dressing, there’s something about the vegan version that I adore. It actually tastes like Caesar dressing – it’s creamy, briny, peppery, and garlicky. The key to this dressing is the capers (and the caper brine), as they add that certain fishy/briny element that we all know and love in a classic Caesar.
This dressing is really simple to make, it’s flavorful, and it’s healthy. And since I want to start my new year off on the right foot, I thought I’d share this recipe with you all. I’ve been making a version of this dressing for years, but in the past I’ve made it with olive oil, almonds, and romaine lettuce. I decided to class up the recipe a little, and make it with dinosaur kale, hazelnuts, Meyer lemons, and hazelnut oil. I couldn’t be happier with the results, it’s a delightful winter salad.
One last funny tidbit, and then I’ll post the recipe. I must confess, I added some roast chicken to the salad. It completely negated the veganness of it, but oh well. It was delicious. That’s the best thing about this salad, there’s a lot of wiggle room. You can change and edit it as you see fit.
- Salad ingredients:
- 1 large bunch Dinosaur Kale (also called Black Kale or Lacinato Kale)
- 1/3 cup toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon capers
- 1 handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
- Optional salad ingredients:
- Red bell pepper, sliced thinly
- Carrots, sliced thinly
- Meyer lemon zest
- Garlic croutons
- Protein: Tempeh, Tofu, Grilled salmon, chicken, etc.
- For the vegan Caesar dressing:
- 1/3 cup toasted hazelnuts
- 2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
- 3/4 cup silken tofu
- 2 tablespoons hazelnut oil (or olive oil)
- 3 tablespoons fresh Meyer lemon juice
- 1 heaping tablespoon capers
- 4 teaspoons caper brine
- 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
- Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
- To make the dressing, first pulse the hazelnuts in a food processor until they are finely ground (1 minute or so).
- Add in the silken tofu, lemon juice, capers, caper brine, garlic, salt, pepper, and red wine vinegar. Process until the mixture is thoroughly blended.
- While the food processor is on, slowly pour in the hazelnut (or olive) oil, until the dressing is thick and creamy. (Note: There is no need to worry about the dressing being completely ‘smooth’. I happen to like the nutty texture, so I blend until it reaches the texture I like. There is a lot of flexibility with this dressing, just make it how you like it!)
- Once you have mixed the dressing, taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Add in salt and a healthy dose of freshly ground black pepper. If the dressing doesn’t taste briny enough, add in a bit more of the caper brine. Set aside.
- To assemble the salad, slice the kale into thin strips with a sharp knife. Toss the kale with the dressing and any other ingredients (carrots, bell pepper, croutons, protein, etc.). If the dressing is too thick, feel free to dilute with a bit of water or more oil.
- Sprinkle the salad with remaining hazelnuts and capers, and season with a few grinds of black pepper.
- Serve immediately, or store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 24 hours. If you are not serving the salad immediately, I recommend squeezing a bit of fresh lemon over the salad prior to serving. If you have extra dressing, it will keep in the fridge for up to a week.