In a contest of salads, there are few that compete for my heart quite as well as a goood Caesar.
I get cravings for this gem in the spring and I find it hard to resist fresh burrata & seasonal tomato in August but in the dead of winter, the relatively simple but almighty Caesar takes it.
What makes or breaks a Caesar, apart from quality ingredients, is the dressing. Of course, this as individual as anything else but my leaning (unwavering bias) is towards a perceptibly tangy, garlicky experience — all good if everyone is participating, right?
If you’re committed to a classic Caesar I have one on the blog but this version is a bit of a modern update that features a mix of traditional romaine and kale, buttery California avocado (works so well here), cucs and sunflower seeds.
The creamy yogurt dressing is lip-smacking good and offers up all that crave-worthy brininess that a proper Caesar experience ought to.
For topping, I decided to skip the bread and bake Parmesan cheese to crispy deliciousness for the croutons. I don’t think you’ll feel deprived though.
Have you made Parmesan crisps before? What a treat. They work well in salads of all kinds but you can also serve them on their own as an elegant appetizer during cocktail hour or atop your favorite soup.
The crisps are a one-ingredient show, so the quality of the cheese is especially important. I enthusiastically recommend parmigiano reggiano (otherwise known as real parmesan cheese) for its sharp taste and depth of flavor. You want to grate it right before baking so that it’s as fresh and bold as possible.
The parmesan smells like heaven baking and you’ll notice that the cheese spreads out as it bakes and then crisps up as it cools to form the most beautiful and unique lace patterns.
I’ve left mine au naturel to allow the flavor of the Italian cheese to shine but you could add dry spices of choice to the grated cheese before baking (garlic, paprika, cayenne, pepper, etc) as desired. I’m also thinking that it might be fun to experiment with dried herbs – rosemary, thyme, parsley, basil.
The Notes in the recipe card will guide you through the process in greater detail, so be sure to read through before making this salad for best results.
And don’t forget, the dressing is at least as interesting as the crisps! I hope you love this one as much as we do.
- For the salad:
- 1 medium head of romaine lettuce, cut into thin strips
- 5 oz (about 3 cups) pre-cut kale, massaged*
- 1 English cucumber, sliced
- 1 avocado, cubed
- 2 Tbsp sunflower seeds
- For the creamy garlic yogurt dressing:
- 2-4 garlic cloves (or according to preference - we like a lot), coarsely chopped and salted
- 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
- 3 tsp anchovy paste or fillets (for veg, my top reco would be 2 tsp low sodium white miso and 1 tsp finely minced kalamata olive/tapenade spread* See Notes)
- ⅓ cup plain Greek yogurt, ideally 4% full fat (min 2%)
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- 1 Tbsp coarse ground Dijon
- ¾ Tbsp Worcestershire sauce (Wizard makes a vegan + gf worcestershire sauce)
- ½ tsp coarse pepper + pinch of salt
- 1-2 tsp brown sugar or other coarse grain sugar (honey will not work as well here)
- For the Parmesan Crisp Croutons
- ¾ cup (2.5 oz/75 g) parmigiano reggiano, freshly grated
- Place all dressing ingredients in a small food processor and blend until thoroughly mixed and gorgeously creamy! (you can add a little more yogurt if necessary). Transfer dressing into a container with fitted lid and allow the flavors of the dressing to develop for at least 30 minutes before tasting and making any adjustments (salty, sweet, acidity, etc).
- Assemble massaged kale and romaine lettuce in a large mixing/salad bowl.
- Meanwhile prepare parmesan crisps - using about ½ cup of the grated parmesan (reserving the rest to toss into the salad) drop rounded tablespoons of the grated Parmesan onto a parchment or silicone lined baking sheet to form little bundles (allow about 1" or so between them). You should be able to make 8-10 bundles. Pat each bundle down slightly with your fingers and transfer into a preheated 400 F oven for approximately 3-6 minutes or possibly longer (cooking times will vary depending on ovens, type of baking surface, etc -- you want to watch these very carefully so that they cook sufficiently to crisp up but not burn. The parmesan will bubble as it cooks and ideally start to take on a slightly golden color around the edges - at this point, carefully remove the tray from oven (the cheese will still look wet and not yet firm) and set on a cooling rack. Allow to cool fully (about 15 minutes) before carefully sliding off with a spatula. Set aside crisps until you are ready to serve salad.
- Add cucumber, sunflower seeds, avocado and remaining grated parmesan cheese to large mixing bowl with lettuce/kale and drizzle with about half of the dressing mixing gently but thoroughly to combine. Sample and make any adjustments (adding more dressing, flavor tweaks, etc.). Divide salad between plates/bowls and top with broken off pieces of parmesan crisps or with a full crisp or two.
- Store any leftover salad dressing in an air tight container in the fridge (good luck! ours never seems to last more than 2 days... so good!).
Anchovy Paste: it's difficulty to precisely mimic the taste of anchovy paste but my favorite sub is a combination of low sodium white miso and ground kalamata olive. If you can't find low sodium miso you can adjust accordingly (perhaps use a little less according to taste preference) - the miso brings some texture while adding a sour earthen element and complements the brininess of the olive nicely.
The Real Deal: Parmigiano Reggiano is expensive but it's worth the splurge/treat in this recipe - the crisps are a one-ingredient show and the flavor and freshness of the cheese really makes a difference. Also, pre-grated parmesan is often relatively tasteless.
Cooking Times: cooking times and the finished color of the crisps will vary depending on oven temperature, surface (I found the crisps baked faster and darker on parchment than silicone) and possibly the color of the tray too. It's important to watch them as they bake to make sure they don't burn. Ideally, you want them to be bubbling throughout and starting to take on a slightly golden color around the edges before carefully removing from the oven to cool. If you wait until they are fully golden, they will go past the point and taste charred. The cheese will crisp up as it cools.
Spicing the Cheese: I left the cheese unspiced in this version but you could add ground pepper, cayenne, paprika, garlic, etc. as desired to the grated parmesan (mixing to combine) before setting out on baking sheet and baking.
Massaging Kale: I have a separate post dedicated to massaging kale (yes I do) but essentially this is very simple and worthwhile 2 minute process used to soften kale. Simply add a drizzle of olive oil (about 2 tsps) to the kale and use your fingers to rub (massage) the oil into the pieces of kale - you will feel the kale leaves softening and the color will become more saturated. You may also notice that the ribs and stems - the hard pieces - fall away as you do this - simply remove.