I know. Kale Caesar Salad? What is this, 2015? Well, as far as ‘good uses for kale’ goes, this happens to be one of the applications I totally endorse.
I’m not one to throw kale into everything I consume. You probably won’t catch me drinking kale smoothies or eating kale chips, but something about the briny lemony garlicky goodness of homemade Caesar dressing does a real number on this tough hearty leaf, and I love it.
That being said, the point of this post is mostly to talk about the dressing. Once you have a great Caesar dressing, you open up a world of possibilities. You can dip veggies into it, dump it over chicken, drizzle it over roast veggies, jazz up a baked potato, the possibilities are endless. If you’re not feeling the Kale Caesar salad thing, feel free to use this classic Caesar dressing on any other hearty leaf like romaine (which happened to be under a recall when I made this video) or even some nice bitter greens like escarole or radicchio. All I request is that you please stay away from any of the wimpy delicate leaves like spring mix or red leaf lettuce. They’re too flimsy at the best of times, and they’re way too flimsy to hold up to Caesar dressing.
Kale Caesar Salad: The Components.
First, the Kale. I normally buy the green leafy kind when it looks really lively in the store. My very favourite though, is the black lacinato (dinosaur) kale which is more elusive. No matter what the type, the main thing to consider when buying kale, especially when you’re eating it raw, is that it looks fresh, not wilted, and that you wash it well and slice it fairly thinly. As for the ribs, I strip the leaves off of them and save them for juicing later. (After I just told you I don’t drink kale smoothies? Yeah I’m pretty much a walking contradiction. Fact is, I just don’t like waste.)
As far as croutons are concerned, you’ve got options. I like to save up the ends of my loaves of bread and collect them in a bag in the freezer. That way I can bust out some nice croutons at a moment’s notice. The gluten-free folks have popularized quite a few varieties of ‘alt’ croutons, like toasted chickpeas, fried polenta cubes, roasted potatoes, etc… and those are kinda cool too. Whatever you do, just don’t buy pre-made croutons in a box. They’re dry and salty and really expensive when you compare them to the cost of a couple crusts of bread.
Elements of A Great Homemade Caesar Dressing:
A neutral oil, mostly.
I use a neutral vegetable oil to make up the bulk of the oil in my caesar. I tend to go with sunflower, but any neutral oil will do. I top that up with about 1 Tbsp of extra virgin oil. I find that too much EV is really strong, and just one Tbsp gives it as much olive oil flavour as I personally want.
If it doesn’t have anchovies, it isn’t a Caesar salad.
I see a lot of recipes out there saying that anchovies are optional. To me that’s a bit like saying garlic is optional. Really, it’s your salad, so everything is optional. But my true heart-of-heart opinion is that if it doesn’t have anchovies, it isn’t a Caesar salad. Do with that opinion what you will.
And we’re all done with pre-grated Parmesan right?
I grew up with the tubs of pre-grated Parmesan, but it was the kind that the grocery store made, not that green shaker with the red lid. but to be totally honest with you I kind of have a fondness for the grocery store grated stuff that you can sprinkle over with a spoon. Nowadays I always buy a wedge of parm and grate it myself, both because it’s the best guarantee that you’ll have real parmesan (cause you can read it right there on the rind), you know it’ll be grated fresh, and I think it works out to be a bit cheaper in the end. If you want to mimic the store-grated stuff, you can buy a wedge and grate it in the food processor in the style of Ina Garten, rather than using a microplane or a box grater. It ends up kinda knobbly and I like it.
If you live in the kind of place where you can find farm fresh eggs regularly, cool. You’re lucky. Easy access to high quality fresh eggs is a luxury. If you’re living in a city and buying eggs in the grocery store, a good purchasing strategy is to strike the perfect balance between freshness, ethics, flavour, and locality. Unfortunately, these factors aren’t always synonymous. My local artisanal, organic grocery store has really nice local eggs, but the turnover isn’t high enough for them to be really fresh. There is something especially disappointing about cracking into a really expensive box of locally raised eggs laid by perfectly treated chickens, to find a watery white that spreads across the pan like crepe batter. When I’m shopping for eggs, I usually find that the free-range (often omega-3 fortified) eggs are right in the sweet spot of being raised well, taste good, and have the longest date on the box. If I’m going to be doing any egg poaching, or raw egg eating (like in Caesar salad) I like the best before date to be a minimum of two months in the future. So in December, I look for BB dates in Feb. This ensures I’m buying the freshest I can get. That being said, if I’m making big batches of something where freshness doesn’t matter quite as much, like pancakes or french toast, I’m less fussy about the dates and I even kind of feel like I’m doing the store a favour by helping to use up the older produce. Eggs last a long long time in the fridge. They’re still good for lots of things when they’re on the older side.
*I will always buy eggs from the farmer’s market if possible, however my market, which happens once a week, runs out of eggs about 3 minutes after the market opens. Let’s just say, it isn’t always possible.
And finally, the garlic
It wasn’t until I was in my late teens and spent some time with garlic farmers that I learned how different fresh garlic was to the store-bought stuff from China. It’s actually a totally different thing. The first time I smashed a clove of fresh local garlic, it was impossible to peel and it stuck to my fingers like crazy, but the smell of it was so fresh and there was no green sprout poking up the middle. It was a game changing moment. Now I try to buy the freshest most local garlic that I can, but all garlic is harvested at the same time, (where I live, it’s late June - mid July) which means that by the following spring, no matter how local and organic it is, it’s well preserved and useable but much dryer and less sticky than in the few months after it’s harvested. Garlic (as well as tomatoes & strawberries) is one of the things I’ll get from the farmer’s market in the summer whenever I can.
Creamy Caesar Salad Dressing
Serves 2-4, depending on how hungry you are.
1 Tbsp anchovy paste, or 3 anchovy fillets
1 egg yolk
1 garlic clove
1 lemon (juice)
100 ml vegetable oil
1 Tbsp extra Virgin olive oil
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 Tbsp (or more) grated Parmesan
Pepper - as needed
Salt - if needed
The method, in a nutshell:
Mash up the anchovy
Whisk in the egg yolk
Add the dijon & lemon juice and keep whisking
Slowly drizzle in the oil (really slowly at first, like a few drips at a time)
Grate in the garlic, add pepper, Parm, and make your final adjustments (*cough* add more Cheese)
Then just toss it all together with your croutons and greens, and you’re in business. Kale Caesar is one of those salads that does taste pretty darn good when it’s been left to sit for 10-20 minutes after tossing, as the dressing kinda softens the greens a bit which is nice.
Let me know what other greens you’ve used for your Caesar Salads! I’d also love to hear about other things you like to drizzle with Caesar dressing. It’s one of my all time favourites and I know I’m not alone on that. Enjoy!