This massaged vegan kale caesar salad features a creamy, umami-packed cashew dressing and homemade croutons.
Caesar salad’s gotta be one of the world’s most beloved salads. Well, here in the US at least, since it’s on nearly every restaurant menu. Juicy leaves, funky dressing, crispy croutons… it’s just fun, ya know? As salads should be.
The inspiration for this one came from Dig Inn, a fast-casual chain here in NYC and one of my favorite lunch spots. All their vegetables are excellent, but the one I can never resist is the vegan kale caesar salad. The kale is tender, the dressing is creamy – it always leaves me wanting more.
The first time I had Dig Inn’s caesar was during Friendsgiving season and I had two potlucks coming up. While eating my lunch, I realized this would be the perfect thing to bring. Since F-giving is typically an ode to beige food (potatoes, mac-and-cheese, etc.), I figured we could use some green to balance things out. The salad turned out to be a hit at both parties, and has become a staple at all my gatherings since.
It’s all About the Cashew Dressing
The star of this vegan caesar is, of course, the dressing. The creamy, rich, briny sauce is made of…
- Soaked cashews. These give the dressing its creamy foundation.
- Capers + miso. Together, these replicate the salt and funk of anchovies (the main flavoring of traditional caesar dressing).
- Lemon juice. For bright tanginess.
Why You Should Massage Your Kale
Apart from the cashew sauce, what makes this kale caesar special is the art of the massage. If you’ve never massaged your kale before, you may be a little weirded out. But trust me, if you want to eat kale raw, a massage is a must!
In comparison to, say, romaine or arugula, kale is much tougher and more fibrous. If you eat it as is, you’ll be chewing for a looong time. Massaging kale with salt and acid – or an acidic dressing like classic vinaigrette or this cashew caesar – softens the leaves, brings out their moisture, reduces their bitterness, and makes the greens easier to chew and digest.
Vegan Kale Caesar Salad Step-by-Step
Soak the Cashews: Begin by measuring out the cashews, covering them with boiling water, and setting aside for at least 30 minutes (or up to several hours). This softens the nuts and helps them blend up into rich, creamy goodness.
Make the Dressing: Next, drain the cashews and combine in a blender with capers, miso, Dijon mustard, garlic, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and fresh water. Puree until completely smooth and creamy. (I don’t advise doing this in a food processor, since the dressing will turn out gritty). The dressing should taste really strong – salty and tangy. Don’t be alarmed – it will mellow out when you add the kale.
Make the Croutons: Tear up some bread (preferably sourdough) and add it to a skillet, along with olive oil, smoked paprika, garlic powder, and salt. Toast until brown and crispy, tossing frequently to avoid burning. These take all of 5 minutes, so don’t skip them! They’re crunchy and pleasantly addictive – way better than whatever you can buy in a bag.
Stem the Kale: Clean the kale leaves under running water and pat dry with a kitchen towel. To remove the tough stems, hold the stem end in one hand and pull off the greens with the other, pulling the piece in opposite directions as you go. Then tear the greens into bite-size bits.
Massage the Kale: To finish the salad, put some kale in a very large bowl and drizzle with some dressing. Massage the leaves by firmly squeezing with your hands until the kale softens, and turns bright green and juicy – this takes a minute or two, so be patient. As the greens soften, gradually incorporate the rest of the kale and more dressing into the bowl. Toss the croutons into the salad and serve.
You can prep all 3 elements (kale, croutons, dressing) in advance. When I make this vegan caesar for parties, I clean, stem, and tear up the kale the day before and keep it in the fridge. The croutons can be toasted, cooled, and kept in an airtight container at room temp for up to a day. The dressing can live in an airtight container in the fridge for ~5 days. This recipe makes 2 cups of dressing (enough for 2 large salads). If you plan to bring this to a potluck, bring the 3 elements separately and assemble the salad when you get there. You don’t wanna massage the kale too early – otherwise it’ll dry out before you eat it.
More greens this way…
Let me know if you try this recipe! Give it a rating below and leave a comment, and don’t forget to tag your creation @thenewbaguette on Instagram.Print
This massaged kale caesar salad features a creamy, umami-packed vegan dressing and homemade croutons. (Adapted from the Compassionate Cuisine)
For the Dressing
- 1 cup raw cashews
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
- 2 tablespoons drained capers
- 1 tablespoon white miso *(see note below)
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (or brown mustard)
- 1 small garlic clove
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- A generous amount of freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup filtered water
For the Croutons + Kale
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 3 small slices sourdough bread, torn into bite-size bits
- 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 small bunch curly kale, stemmed and torn into bite-size pieces
- Start the dressing: Place 1 cup cashews in a blender and add enough boiling water to cover by about an inch. Soak for at least 30 minutes.
- Drain the water and add 1/4 cup lemon juice, 2 tablespoons capers, 1 tablespoon miso, 1 tablespoon mustard, 1 small garlic clove, 1/4 teaspoon salt, a few grinds of pepper, and 1 cup filtered water. Blend until completely smooth and creamy. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if needed (the dressing should have a strong tangy-salty flavor – it will mellow when you add the kale).
- To make the croutons, heat a large skillet over medium-low heat and add enough oil to lightly coat the bottom. Add the bread and season with 1/4 teaspoon each smoked paprika and garlic powder, and pinches of salt and pepper. Toss to coat and toast, tossing occasionally, until the bread is golden brown and crisp, about 5 minutes.
- To make the salad, place about half of the kale in a large mixing bowl. Add about 1/2 cup of the dressing and massage the kale for 1 to 2 minutes by squeezing it with your hands until softened and juicy. Incorporate more kale and dressing as it wilts. (Note: this recipe makes enough dressing for 2 salads). Then toss in the croutons. Serve immediately. (Store leftover dressing in the fridge for ~5 days).
If you avoid soy, substitute miso with nutritional yeast and compensate with an extra pinch of salt.
- Serving Size: 1/6 of the recipe
- Calories: 240
- Fat: 13.2 g
- Carbohydrates: 25.8 g
- Fiber: 2.4 g
- Protein: 8.1 g