This massaged vegan kale caesar salad features a creamy, umami-packed cashew dressing and homemade croutons.
Caesar salad is probably the world’s most universally loved salad. Crunchy greens, funky dressing, crispy croutons. It’s just so fun to eat.
The inspiration for this one came from Dig Inn, a seasonal fast-casual restaurant chain here in NYC. There’s a Dig Inn next to my new co-working office where I sometimes get lunch. They’re experts in cooking all the vegetables, but I can never resist ordering the vegan kale caesar salad. The kale is tender, the dressing is packed with umami, and the only problem is that I always want seconds!
Last time I had it was around Friendsgiving season and I had two potlucks to attend. While eating my lunch, I realized a kale caesar would be the perfect thing to bring since Friendsgiving is typically an ode to beige food (potatoes, mac-and-cheese, etc.) and we could all use some green to balance things out. (The salad was a hit at both parties!)
About the Dressing
Classic caesar dressing gets its creaminess from raw egg yolks and oil, and funkiness from anchovies. This plant-based version starts with cashews, which are soaked in hot water and then blended. Blended cashews are rich, creamy, and pretty neutral in flavor, which makes them the perfect dairy substitute (more examples here and here).
The cashew cream is then flavored with garlic, capers, miso, Dijon mustard, and lots of lemon juice – a mixture that tastes nearly identical to the original. If you’re not a fan of capers, don’t worry – their flavor gets diluted in the dressing and it does not taste caper-y at all.
Cue the Marvin Gaye, It’s Time for a Massage
Okay, so if you’ve never massaged kale before, you may be a little weirded out. But trust me, if you want to eat your kale raw, a massage is a must!
In comparison to, say, romaine lettuce, 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 this Caesar – softens the leaves, brings out their juiciness, reduces their bitterness, and makes the greens easier to chew and digest.
This recipe makes about 2 cups of dressing (enough for 2 large salads), which will keep well in the fridge for up to ~5 days.
If you plan to bring this vegan kale caesar salad to a potluck like I did, bring the torn kale, dressing, and croutons separately and assemble the salad when you get there. The salad is fine if it stands for a while, but it’s best eaten right away.
This vegan caesar dressing recipe is adapted from Catskill Animal Sanctuary’s cookbook, Compassionate Cuisine.
For the Salad
- 1 cup raw cashews
- 1 cup filtered water
- 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
- 2 tablespoons drained capers
- 1 tablespoon white miso
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 small garlic clove
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 small bunch curly kale, stemmed and torn into bite-size pieces
For the Homemade Croutons (optional)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 2–3 slices sourdough bread, cubed
- A pinch of fine sea salt
- A pinch of freshly ground black pepper
- A pinch of smoked paprika
- A pinch of garlic powder
- Start the dressing: Place the cashews in a bowl and add enough boiling water to cover by about 1 inch. Let stand for at least 30 minutes (or up to 8 hours).
- Drain the cashews and place in a blender. Add the filtered water, lemon juice, capers, miso, mustard, garlic, salt, and pepper. Blend until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if needed (the dressing should have a strong tangy-salty flavor – it will mellow out when you add the kale).
- If making the homemade croutons, heat a large skillet over medium-low heat and add enough oil to lightly coat the bottom. Add the bread and season with salt, pepper, smoked paprika, and garlic. Toss to coat and toast, tossing occasionally, until the bread is golden brown and crisp, about 5 minutes.
- Assemble the salad: Place the kale in a large mixing bowl. Add about a cup of the dressing and massage the kale for 1 to 2 minutes by squeezing it with your hands until softened. Mix in more dressing, if needed. Then toss in the croutons. Serve immediately.
- Calories: 115
Keywords: vegan, kale, caesar, salad, cashew