A good caesar salad is an important part of any cook’s repertoire, but such an iconic dish needs a twist to make it your own. Today I’m sharing a plant-based version from my cookbook Eating for Pleasure, People & Planet that’s made with a variety of nutritious bitter leaves instead of the rather dull traditional iceberg lettuce, some seaweed and salty capers to give it a hint of the sea as an alternative to anchovies, and grated walnuts to replace the parmesan in the original. The real hero ingredient, however, is that lowly by-product aquafaba, or bean cooking water, which makes great mayonnaise and an even better caesar dressing.
Plant-based caesar salad
This is one of the most popular recipes in Eating for Pleasure, People & Planet. The aquafaba caesar dressing gives it a seriously silky, rich and unctuous texture that really hits the spot. Leafy greens (white, red, pink and purple ones alike) keep us going through the coldest months of the year with nutritious, colourful and flavourful ingredients that can withstand seriously cold temperatures, making them a good source of nutrition, including vitamins A and C and minerals in the form of iron, potassium and calcium. Market gardens and specialist farmers are now growing more and more varieties, from old heritage species to new colourful hybrids, including variegated purple and green kale, magenta-coloured fingers of tardivo and radicchio la rosa del Veneto, a frilly, pastel-pink chicory. Experiment with different seasonal greens to personalise your salads.
And what better way to use up stale bread than by making croutons? Save energy by frying them over a medium-low heat, rather than blasting them in the oven.
For the salad
2 little gem
100g wild sea kale
50g dandelion leaves
5g dulse seaweed, soaked in cold water for 10 minutes, then drained
1 pinch kala namak (black salt), or sea salt, to finish
For the croutons
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed to a paste
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 slices stale wholemeal sourdough (or other bread), cut into long batons
For the dressing
4 tbsp aquafaba (ie, from tin of chickpeas)
1 small garlic clove, peeled and crushed to a paste
2 tbsp capers, drained
1 tbsp nutritional yeast (optional)
Extra-virgin olive oil – you’ll need between 100ml and 200ml
The juice and zest of ½ unwaxed lemon
1 tbsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
First make the dressing. Put the aquafaba, garlic, capers and nutritional yeast, if using, in a food processor and blitz until smooth. With the motor running, pour in extra-virgin olive oil in a very slow, steady stream, just as you would when making mayonnaise , until the mix emulsifies and takes on the consistency of double cream. Blend in the lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce, then set aside.
To make the crouutons, mix the garlic and extra-virgin olive oil in a bowl. Add the bread batons, turn them in the garlicky oil until well coated, then season generously with salt. Set a frying pan over a medium-low heat and fry the bread, turning occasionally, until golden brown all over, then take off the heat and set aside to cool.
To assemble the salad, mix the leaves, seaweed, croutons and capers in a bowl, drizzle over the dressing and turn just once or twice so the bright colours of the leaves shine through. Serve at once topped with a generous grating of walnuts and a sprinkle of kala namak or sea salt.