Hearty and healthy with flavor reminiscent of a 5-star restaurant, this vegan salad is sure to appeal to all types of diners. It may just become a menu staple at your house and is 100% worthy of company.
This might just be the salad of the summer, and for so many important reasons.
The recipe hails from the pages of Sweet Potato Soul, a cookbook by blogger Jenné Claiborne that brings Southern flair to plant-based meals.
Jenné says that, of all the recipes in her book, this is the one of which she is most proud. She aptly describes many vegan dressings as “too bland, too wet, and too boring.” Another problem: vegan sauces and dressings frequently rely on cashews as a base, and Jenné is allergic to them.
With a few quick blitzes of the blender or food processor, Jenné overcame those challenges. The following dressing nails the classic Caesar flavor and happens to be incredibly nourishing as well. I’d go so far as to say that it bests most Caesar dressings, be they traditional, vegan, store-bought, or homemade.
Moreover, this dressing provides an excellent way to enjoy the nutritional benefits of kale. For textural appeal, however, the recipe adds romaine to the mix. Most recently, I used some Bibb-type lettuce that I received in our weekly farm box. Either way, when paired with heartier kale, the addition of more tender greens softens the overall texture of the salad and, to use a foodie descriptive, provides a better “mouth feel.” In other words, you don’t have to chew so hard!
We’ve enjoyed the salad topped with the included recipe for crispy, spiced chickpeas, which adds filling protein to the meatless meal. Because my family does eat meat, we’ve also enjoyed the salad as a side to grilled flank steak and burgers. Most recently, I topped the plated servings with grilled salmon. Shrimp or chicken would complement well, too.
However you serve this salad, I venture to say you’ll feel as though you ordered it from a fancy restaurant.
As yet another alternative to the chickpeas (which I do recommend), I’ve topped the salad with Polenta Croutons, which are a fun, filling, gluten-free spin on the traditional crouton. Much like the chickpeas, however, if you don’t guard the crispy polenta bites, they’re likely to disappear straight off the baking sheet before they even make it to the salad!
Unlike heartier kale, which holds up well for several days, tender greens tend to wilt once dressed. For that reason, I have used half a large bunch of kale and then eyeballed a similar amount of greens. Feel free to use whatever amount you think will be consumed the same day. Conversely, you may dress a full bunch of kale and then add the romaine or other greens of choice just prior to serving.
The dressing will keep for about a week in the refrigerator, and although I have not tried, Jenné says it freezes well. The flavors do meld and improve over time, so there’s benefit to preparing the dressing even an hour or two in advance.
As an added note on the dressing, ingredients like capers, nutritional yeast, Dijon, and soy sauce or tamari provide umami and replicate the classic Caesar dressing flavor. Even if you don’t care for capers, for example, I encourage you not to omit them as you will be hard-pressed to detect the individual components that together really make this dressing sparkle.
If you’ve never purchased nutritional yeast, it is different than the yeast used for baking and can be found in most supermarkets, often in the natural/health foods aisle. It actually looks a bit like mashed potato flakes and is commonly used in place of Parmesan cheese in vegan recipes. It tastes great on popcorn, too.
I adapted the recipe to include my own tips and a few options that my family has enjoyed, but the brilliance of the recipe belongs to Jenné. I should note that the cookbook includes recipes for corn bread croutons and bacon tempeh, not the crispy chickpeas.
- 1 bunch kale, stems removed, and leaves sliced into ¼-½” ribbons
- 1 bunch romaine lettuce, sliced into ¼-½” ribbons
- 2 cups Spiced Crispy Chickpeas (separate recipe card follows; may substitute or add another protein of choice)
- ½ cup (70g) raw sunflower seeds, soaked for at least 6 hours or overnight, and then rinsed and drained well
- 1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, minced
- 3 tablespoons (18g) nutritional yeast
- 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
- 4 teaspoons (20ml) Worcestershire sauce (check label for vegan if needed)
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) low sodium tamari or soy sauce (ensure GF as needed)
- 2 teaspoons (10g) Dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ cup (2oz) water
- 2 tablespoons (28ml) extra virgin olive oil
- Place the sliced kale in a large salad bowl. Keep the romaine separate for now.
- Make the dressing: place the sunflower seeds, garlic, nutritional yeast, capers, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, tamari or soy sauce, mustard, and pepper in a blender or food processor and add ¼ cup water.
- Blend until creamy (a little texture is also fine), scraping down the sides as needed, and then slowly pour in the oil while the blender or processor is running, blending to incorporate.
- Using your clean hands, massage the kale to tenderize the leaves. (After a minute or so, you will notice the leaves turn a darker shade of green.) Add the romaine and drizzle with enough dressing to lightly coat the greens. Go easy at first, as you can always add more. Top with crispy chickpeas (see following recipe) or protein of choice, and enjoy!
•We enjoy Lacinato kale when available, although curly kale may be used. The weight of “1 bunch” of kale or lettuce varies greatly, but I figure on roughly 4 ounces per adult when serving as the main entrée, and 2-3 ounces when serving alongside something else. (One cup of lightly packed chopped greens equals about 1 ounce.) Keep in mind that with kale, you will remove a good bit of the initial weight when you strip away the tough stems.
•As I mentioned in the writeup preceding the recipe, I like to lightly dress the amount of greens I want for a given meal and then save any remaining dressing for salad another night.
•Don’t be tempted to cut the dressing recipe in half. Depending on your blender or processor, there may not be sufficient bulk to adequately catch in the blending mechanism.
•When serving four or fewer people, I make a half recipe of the chickpeas, as they are best served hot from the oven.
•Don’t doubt the pepper. The first time I made this, I thought 1 teaspoon would be plenty but kept adding and felt the full 2 teaspoons balanced the other ingredients quite well.
•I’ve also used a mini food processor to prepare the dressing.
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon nutritional yeast
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon each kosher or sea salt and fresh black pepper
- 2 (14-ounce) cans chickpeas, rinsed, drained, and patted very dry
- 1 tablespoon (14ml) extra virgin olive oil
- In a small bowl, mix the oregano, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, cumin, smoked paprika, salt and pepper. Set aside. (Prep ahead tip: the spice mixture may be mixed and stored at room temperature until ready to use.)
- Preheat oven to 425°, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or spray with cooking spray.
- Place the dried chickpeas in a bowl. Drizzle the oil over the chickpeas and toss to coat.
- Sprinkle the spice mixture over the chickpeas and toss well to evenly distribute.
- Spread the chickpeas into an even layer on the prepared baking sheet and roast for about 20 minutes, or until crispy.
•Thoroughly drying the chickpeas will allow for better crisping and prevent popping in the oven. You may rinse and drain the chickpeas ahead of time and allow them to dry on a paper towel or tea towel. If they are dry and you aren’t quite ready to cook them, simply transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use.
•When serving this with The Best Vegan Caesar Salad, I toss the chickpeas with the olive oil and the spice mixture in my salad bowl and don’t rinse the bowl. That way, the residual spices add a hint of flavor to the greens–and there’s one less bowl to wash!