Three or four years ago, my husband sent me a text while on a business trip in Chicago: “Had an awesome kale Caesar salad for dinner tonight. Maybe you could replicate it?”
These two brief sentences caught my attention for several reasons. First, he chose kale—for his entrée! As a general rule, my family members willingly consume veggies when I serve them at home but tend to limit their consumption when dining out. Secondly, he liked it enough to want it again.
Fast forward one year. My husband and I were spending a few days in Boston after taking our boys to camp in Maine. We’d been eating all of our meals in restaurants and were in the mood for something filling but light. The words “kale Caesar salad” were uttered.
Because one can, in fact, Google anything, I searched “best kale Caesar salad in Boston.” A restaurant by the name of sweetgreen (spelled with a lowercase “s”) popped up and, as luck would have it, there was a location a short walk from our hotel.
Light but filling and brimming with flavor, the salad was slightly different than the version my husband had texted about months before, but we both enjoyed it—and now I had a starting point upon which to model a homemade version.
The restaurant offering included a combination of kale and romaine lettuce, roasted chicken, fresh tomatoes, and a squeeze of lime, along with cheese crisps instead of the typical bread croutons. I opt for all kale (although you can certainly use a mix of greens) because any leftovers hold up well. Topping the plated salad with grilled or baked salmon is a worthy alternative to the chicken; whichever you prefer, a serving of protein will create a complete meal. As for the croutons, you may follow the traditional or sweetgreen route—or choose both for added flavor and crunch.
Cheese crisps are often baked in the oven, and they can be tricky to evenly crisp without burning. My mother-in-law showed me a virtually foolproof method years ago using the microwave; I would have been a skeptic had I not had the crispy proof in hand. They’re perfect for snacking, as a side to soup, and for last minute hors d’oeuvres. The speedy instructions are included below. If you’d like a few more options, you can check out the full cheese crisps post.
In the notes section, I mention a way to doctor up homemade croutons with a little bit of the dressing. My family’s favorite crouton, however, is a version made with prepared polenta (the kind that’s packaged in a plastic tube). Crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside, they add extra heft to this salad and the flavors work well together. A word of caution: sticky fingers tend to pluck these right off the baking sheet. You may have to guard them to ensure plenty for the salad!
Like many of my recipes, the following offers options based on what you have on hand and what you have time for. Happily, the various components can be prepared in advance and easily assembled when ready to eat. Also, the cheese crisps and polenta croutons are quite versatile, so keep them in mind for a variety of other uses.
Readers sometimes ask if my boys like a given recipe or not, claiming that an endorsement from sometimes picky teenagers can be the small push needed to venture into new recipe territory. So for those who may be wondering whether they really want to eat kale for dinner, my sons both give this recipe two thumbs up!
Yield: 4 servings (dressing yield= 3/4 cup)
- 1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice plus the zest of 1 lemon
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 2 anchovy fillets
- 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/3 cup (74 grams) extra virgin olive oil
- 1 bunch (about 8-10 ounces) kale (Tuscan or Lacinato if available), tough stems removed, cut into thin ribbons
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- Optional add-ins: croutons (traditional bread croutons or these yummy Polenta Croutons); crumbled Cheese Crisps, diced hardboiled eggs; halved grape or cherry tomatoes; chicken, salmon, shrimp, or another protein of choice
- In the bowl of a food processor (you can use a mini chopper as long as it has a hole to pour in the oil while the chopper is running), combine the Parmesan cheese, lemon juice and zest, garlic, Dijon, anchovies, and Worcestershire sauce. Puree until the mixture is smooth, 15 to 20 seconds, scraping down the sides as needed. With the machine running, slowly add the olive oil through the feed tube. Let the processor run for another 10 seconds or until the mixture is creamy.
- In a large bowl, sprinkle the kale with the salt and massage the leaves for a minute or two, or until the leaves soften slightly and become a deeper shade of green. Drizzle with approximately two-thirds of the dressing—just enough to evenly coat the kale. Taste, add additional dressing as needed, and adjust for seasoning with a sprinkle of salt and/or freshly cracked black pepper, if desired. Just before serving, stir in the croutons and other add-ins of choice, and top with preferred protein, if using.
- For flavorful bread croutons, I like to brush hearty peasant bread or several slices of a crusty baguette (even gluten-free Udi’s white bread works well) with some of the dressing and grill until toasted and golden grill marks appear. The bread can then be cut into croutons or served as a tasty option to a dinner roll. Likewise, the dressing adds great flavor to chicken when brushed on prior to grilling. The same may be done with shrimp or salmon.
- Depending on how many people you are serving, you may wish to double the dressing recipe when using for these grilling options. Also, you can easily adjust the number of salad servings by increasing (or decreasing) the amount of kale. Leftover dressing will keep for several days in the fridge, as will any leftover salad that has been tossed with the dressing. (Perfect for lunch!)
- The dressing may be prepared earlier in the day and refrigerated. It will firm up, so let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes and give it a good stir before tossing with the kale. If desired, you may take it a step further and toss the dressing with the kale and refrigerate. The kale is sturdy enough to not wilt. If using, add the croutons just before serving.
Cut a piece of parchment paper the size of your microwave turntable and place it on the turntable. Place slightly mounded tablespoonfuls of shredded cheddar or Parmesan cheese on the parchment with a couple inches of space between them. Microwave on full power for approximately 2 minutes. I recommend cooking for 1 minute, checking, and then microwaving in 30-second intervals (perhaps a 15-second interval at the end) until the cheese is crisp and golden brown. Allow the crisps to cool enough to touch. Remove to a paper towel. Wipe the parchment with another paper towel and repeat as often as desired. Once cooled, eat and enjoy. Store any leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature where they will keep for a week or more.
Note: Pre-shredded packaged cheese works well for these. I’ve even made these with cheese sticks and slices. For more details and a printable recipe, see the cheese crisps recipe post.