Caesar Salad is probably the most universally loved salad. Like a lot of mass-appeal “healthy” foods, it kind of rides the line between healthy and unhealthy. With a Caesar Salad, you can feel good about eating a salad, without eating one of those salads. You know what I mean?! Either way, there’s no denying the combination of crisp Romaine lettuce, crunchy croutons, and a creamy enveloping dressing. It seems to win everyone over - even the veggie skeptics.
During the holidays, potluck-friendly foods become imperative. As a veggie-lover, I feel a responsibility to inject more veggies on the table; but have enough self awareness to recognize that not everyone gets as excited about kale as I do. That’s when a big bowl of Caesar Salad saves the day.
This recipe looks and tastes every bit like a traditional Caesar Salad, but as you might expect, the ingredients have taken a turn for the better. To keep it vegetarian, I skip the anchovies and Worcestershire. There’s also no need for any dairy or egg yolks, thanks to the combination of creamy cashews, roasted garlic, lemon and capers. Because the only thing better than a Caesar Salad, is a vegan version that everyone can enjoy (including all my pregnant lady-friends - woop woop!). To be honest, when bringing this salad to a potluck, I rarely tell the crowd that it’s any “different”. It’s my weird (and unusually satisfying) way of testing how crowd-friendly it is. And thankfully, it’s always passes with flying colors.
In my opinion, roasted garlic is worth its weight in gold. Roasting garlic mellows the flavor and brings out more sweetness from the otherwise sharp garlic cloves. While I have some friends that love them some raw garlic, there’s probably many more people who don’t. So, roasted is definitely the way to go when serving a crowd. Unfortunately, roasting a head of garlic takes a while - somewhere in the ballpark of 45-60 minutes. And I don’t know about you, but I can use all the time I can get during the holidays...which is why I lean on a shortcut version. All it takes is a skillet pan and 15 minutes of your time. Garlic roasts a lot faster when separated into individual cloves. Keeping the skin on prevents it from burning, so it can safely steep in a drizzle of olive oil on the stove. At the end you have softly “roasted” garlic pieces, in a fraction of the time. Once blitzed up in the Caesar dressing, no one will ever know it took took you a quarter of the time.
For those of you interested in adding a protein boost to this salad, I highly recommend giving these marinated tempeh cubes a try. Tempeh gets a bad rap, mostly because it falls into the wrong hands who prepare it in the blandest of methods. You can much better - trust me. The first step is to steam/boil the tempeh to remove its bitter flavor. The next step is flavoring it with an addictively salty/smoky/sweet marinade. They’re perfect sprinkled on top of the salad or can be served on the side as an optional add-in. If you have a Caesar Salad obsession (like I do), then the tempeh addition makes it a much more wholesome dinner or lunch.
Vegan Caesar Salad with Shortcut Roasted Garlic
- 3 cups cubed bread (Sourdough, Whole grain, etc.)
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon onion powder
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ cup raw cashews, soaked and rinsed (see note 1)
- 6 cloves garlic (with skin on)
- 3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, divided (divided)
- ½ teaspoon lemon zest
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon capers + 1 tablespoon caper brine (see note 2)
- ¾ teaspoon dijon mustard
- ⅛ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 to 3 tablespoons water
- Black pepper (to taste)
- 1 head romaine lettuce, chopped
Smoky Tempeh Cubes (optional)
- 7 oz tempeh, cubed (½-inch)
- 2 tablespoon tamari
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
- Preheat oven: Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C).
- Bake croutons: Add bread to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat. Sprinkle with garlic powder, onion powder, salt and black pepper. Toss to coat. Bake until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Croutons will firm up slightly out of the oven.
Smoky Tempeh Cubes (optional)
- Steam tempeh: Fill a medium pot with 2 inches of water. Cover with a lid and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add tempeh and cook covered for 5 minutes. Drain tempeh.
- Make marinade: Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together tamari, maple syrup, garlic powder, smoked paprika, and pepper.
- Bake tempeh: Add drained tempeh to the bowl, toss to coat. Use a slotted spoon to transfer tempeh to a parchment-lined baking sheet (reserve extra marinade). Bake until tempeh is firm and golden brown at the edges, about 20 minutes. Add tempeh back to the bowl of marinade and toss until the marinade is fully absorbed. Transfer tempeh back to baking sheet and bake for another 5 minutes.
- Shortcut garlic: Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and garlic cloves (skin on) to a small pot over low heat. Cook for 8 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally. Then, flip the garlic cloves, and cook until the garlic feels tender when pressed with a fork, about another 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat. When cool enough to handle, use a fork to peel away the garlic skins, revealing golden colored cloves.
- Blend dressing: To a high speed blender, add garlic cloves, soaked cashews, the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, capers, caper brine, dijon mustard, and salt. Blend until smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary. Add water in 1 tablespoon increments, until dressing is desired thickness. Season with pepper and more salt (if needed).
- Assemble: Add lettuce to a large bowl. Add dressing in small increments, tossing until the lettuce is dressed to your liking. Add croutons and Smokey Tempeh Cubes (if using). Garnish with more pepper. Serve immediately.
- How to soak cashews: Cashews should be soaked until soft when squeezed between your fingertips. To soak cashews, either cover them with boiling water (soak for about 30 minutes) or cover them with room temperature water (soak for 6 to 8 hours).
- Caper brine: The liquid in the jar of capers. Measure the capers and brine separately (measurements provided for each).
- Make ahead tips: The dressing and smoky tempeh cubes can be made the night before (cover and refrigerate). The tempeh can be rewarmed in the oven while the croutons are baking the next day (just be sure to watch carefully as it will only take a few minutes). The salad should be dressed and tossed just before serving. If you don't plan to finish the whole batch of salad in one go, store the components separately and dress/toss smaller batches as you need them.